Since I've been away from the blogosphere for the last few days, here are a couple of notes to catch you up on what's been happening around the Big Blue Nation:
Kentucky football's career touchdown leader has agreed to terms with the Green Bay Packers, according to multiple reports. Cobb, the Packers' second-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, will reportedly receive $3.2 million. The deal also calls for an $850,000 signing bonus.
Collin Cowgill's first few games in the big leagues haven't gone as well as his time in the minor leagues, but the former UK baseball player finally collected his first hit on Saturday night in a pinch-hit opportunity against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Cowgill is 1 for 12 for the Arizona Diamondbacks since being called up, but I wouldn't expect that trend to last much longer. He was hitting .354 with 13 home runs and 70 RBI in the Pacific Coast League prior to his promotion.
Darius Miller has made the first cut for the World University Games, according to Aaron Smith of the Kentucky Kernel. The roster has been trimmed from 21 to 14 with one more cut of two players still to come. Miller will continue training with the team through Aug. 7 at the US. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., until the official roster is announced prior to the teams' departure for China on Aug. 8. Miller previously plaued with USA Basketball as a member of the USA U19 team that won a gold medal at the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship in New Zealand.
Because I've been moving the past few days, I didn't get a chance to make it out for Josh Harrellson's media opportunity at the Prasco John Calipari ProCamp on Saturday. Fortunately, Brett Dawson of Cats Illustrated recorded video of the interview, which you can watch here.
On Friday at the Lexington Convention Center, UK football held its annual Kickoff Luncheon, an event that offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said "signals the start of the football season."
The 400 or so UK supporters in attendance were treated to lunch, a pair of well-produced videos and comments from head coach Joker Phillips. Phillips repeated many of the same comments from yesterday's Governor's Cup Luncheon, but Sanders, co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter, Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart and new university president Eli Capilouto gave their perspectives on the 2011 season.
Here are some notes on what the coaches had to say:
Following an introduction from Phillips, Sanders spoke about his offensive unit. Sanders, speaking at the event for the second time, said he received positive feedback for how funny he was the first time around. Jokingly, he said the amount of offensive talent lost to graduation and the NFL would not allow him to duplicate that performance. "I had somebody tell me earlier that they enjoyed hearing me speak last year, that I was funny and they were looking forward to hearing what I had to say this year," Sanders said. "You lose your starting quarterback, you lose your fullback, you lose your tailback and your top two receivers, you don't make any jokes."
While there is a lot of offensive production to be replaced, Sanders is comforted by the strength and experience of his offensive line, although the unit isn't as deep as he would like. In his years in the game, a key ingredient to any successful team has been a good offense and having that in place puts UK in good position. "Every good football team I've been on or been a part of, the offensive line was the anchor," Sanders said. "They were the ones who kind of set the tempo for practice, so I'm excited about those guys."
At the other skill positions, Sanders acknowledged there is work to be done. Raymond Sanders, Jonathan George and CoShik Williams are the only two experienced ball carriers returning that will see the field according to the offensive coordinator, but will be joined by younger guys who "had a really good spring." At wide receiver, Sanders said they have players who have been the third or fourth option, but never the first or second and he made it clear they need to improve. "We've got some guys who have played, but we've got to have some guys step up," Sanders said.
At the quarterback position, Sanders is very comfortable with Morgan Newton. He even alluded to the fact that the junior, in Sanders' preferred mathematical analogy, had graduated to "calculus" while younger pupils like freshmen Maxwell Smith and Bookie Cobbins are being taught "algebra I".
Minter was up next. Today was the first time I had heard Minter speak and I can attest that his reputation for passion and energy is well-earned. Minter took time to address the subject that is on the minds of most when talking about the UK defense: change. With Minter taking over primary responsibility of the defense this season, instituting a new, aggressive brand of defense, his players have been faced with a great deal of change. Those changes began to be instituted in December as the team prepared to play in their bowl game and in spring practices, but the transition is still a work in progress and maintaining a positive attitude toward that change will be crucial. "I think our kids felt back in December and into the winter that change is in the air," Minter said. "I hope we embrace change as something that can be good."
As much talk as there has been about the new defensive scheme, the scheme will be meaningless if the players don't execute on Saturday's. "I know everybody's heard about the new scheme," Minter said. "It's overrated. It's what we can get our kids to know and believe in on game day." If the players execute, fans will see an "adjustable, adaptable and aggressive system", which Minter said is essential with the variety of different offenses that defenses encounter these days. Pinning Minter's defense down to a 3-4, 4-3 or 4-2-5 is impossible, because he makes it clear that UK will show all three looks this season.
There has been some concern that UK did not have the personnel necessary to play all those different looks, but Minter says that is not the case. There were enough flexible Wildcats on the roster like Winston Guy, who will move to linebacker, and Martavius Neloms, who will move to safety, that Minter will fully institute his scheme. "(With) the guys we inherited here in December, I think we have enough guys on board to do the things that we want to do," Minter said.
When Minter discussed goals for the upcoming season, he focused on lifting up Joker Phillips. He said if Phillips is recognized throughout the SEC and NCAA as a top coach that will mean everyone will have done their jobs. "We want our head ball coach to be the coach everybody talks about in the league," Minter said. "That's our goal as a staff: to make him coach of the year in the SEC. (If we do that) I think we'll all live with the results that came from that. It's amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit."
Phillips closed the event with a short but sweet speech that centered on the "Rise" theme for this year's Wildcats. Under Phillips and his predecessor, Rich Brooks, the football program has accomplished a great deal. To underscore that UK is a program on the rise, Phillips ran down a few of those accomplishments:
The graduation rate among football players is 75 percent, up from 33 percent when Brooks took over eight years ago. That includes seven players on this year's roster that have graduated but still have eligibility remaining.
Each season since 1999, UK has ranked in the top 25 in attendance nationally.
Over the past three seasons, UK has defeated three top-10 opponents, including 2007 national champion LSU and 2010 SEC East champion South Carolina.
UK is one of only five SEC schools to reach bowl games in each of the past five seasons.
Thirty-two players have signed NFL contracts over the past four seasons.
However, those involved with the program are not content: they want to continue the rise of UK football. "If you walk through the Nutter Center, you see the attitude (with which) these guys walk, the determination, the grit, the grind, the gleam in this team's eyes," Phillips said. "You'll see that we're going to continue to rise."
Former UK men's basketball player DeAndre Liggins talked to the media during a break at the Prasco John Calipari ProCamp being held at the Joe Craft Center/Memorial Coliseum. Liggins talked about being drafted by the Orlando Magic, possibly playing overseas while the NBA lockout is ongoing and the future Wildcats.
Amid scorching temperatures and humidity so sweltering that you sweat sitting in the shade, it's hard to believe the 2011 football season is around the corner.
But as Governor Steve Beshear noted Thursday at the University Club just outside Lexington, fall is just around the corner, and that means football is getting ready to start.
As an annual tradition before the season, the Kentucky and Louisville coaching staffs came together Thursday for the Governor's Cup Luncheon. With the Governor's Cup situated in front of a dais and a couple hundred people in attendance, including Beshear, ESPN analyst Lee Corso, and several former Kentucky and Louisville greats (this year's honorees were Tim Couch, Dan Neal, Howard Stevens and Wally Oyler) UK head coach Joker Phillips and Louisville coach Charlie Strong spoke about the upcoming season.
We've got video above of Phillips' news conference, but below are a couple of extra notes and quotes from each coach:
After Strong left the makeshift stage and downplayed Louisville's expectations for this season, longtime reporter Billy Reed said that in all of his years of doing the luncheon he had never heard a coach say his team was going to be really good. Joking with Reed, Phillips took the bait. "We're going to be pretty damn good this year," Phillips said to a tent full of laugther. "We're going to get some young guys to step up. We're going to be pretty darn good. We're going to kick some people."
From left to right, Louisville coach Charlie Strong, Gov. Steve Beshear and Kentucky coach Joker Phillips pose for a picture in front of the Governor's Cup. (photo by Evan Crane, UK Athletics)
In all seriousness, Phillips said his team and staff are excited to start the season just like everyone else. "The reason you're excited, especially today, is because this is our last event," Phillips said. "We know that after this event, we lock the doors and go to work on football."
Phillips reiterated Thursday what he's said in several of his preseason talking engagements: There is a lot of production to replace on offense, they're excited for the young players to step up, the offensive line is the offense's strength, and the defense, which has its top 11 tacklers back, will be the team's overall strength. "There are some questions, but we do have some answers," Phillips said. "We've got to get a lot more questions answered in fall camp."
Phillips once again mentioned the luxury of signing freshmen who are true receivers. In the past few years, UK has had to turn athletes into receivers. With all the talk about the young receivers and who could potentially play right away, a reporter asked a pretty valid question: What about a few of the returning veterans? "Better step up," Phillips said. "That's the message and that's our policy. At the end of spring, you had to be in the top two or else a freshman is coming in ahead of you. Same with the freshmen that were on campus last year. They know that. They know now. They came in and they were No. 3. If they're not No. 2 now, they'll be four. I don't think it's fair to a freshman, leaving home for the first time, he's coming here to campus, it's hot, he thinks he's the greatest thing since sliced bread, and now he comes in on the depth chart and he's buried fifth or six. I don't think that's fair to him. And we've got some talented guys here that we have to find out if they can help us. How can you figure out if they're fifth team? We've got to get those guys reps right away."
One of the returning veterans that not a lot of people are talking about is junior Gene McCaskill, who missed the entire 2010 season with a knee injury. Wide receivers coach Tee Martin thinks McCaskill could be the X-factor because of his ability to play multiple receiving positions. "When he went down, I realized how many people he was for us because he can play all three (receiving) positions," Martin said. "Unfortunately it put La'Rod (King) in a situation that wasn't really his comfort zone, and he did a good job. Along with Gene coming back, we can do some things we weren't able to do."
Martin said he's received positive reports on McCaskill from the strength and conditioning staff and expects McCaskill to be ready for the start of fall camp. "We kept him involved the whole time," Martin said. "The only time Gene really missed anything the other guys did is if he had a mandatory doctor's appointment or something with rehab. But meetings, walkthroughs, being-on-the-field stuff, he's been around. ... I feel good about him being able to come in (and contribute)."
For those that were worried about the report a week ago that incoming freshman Glenn Faulkner, ranked the No. 8 overall safety in the country by Rivals.com, was not on campus yet, Phillips reassured everyone Thursday that Faulkner is "on his way."
From the Louisville side of things, Strong harped on how young his team was, noting a stat he'd recently read that said Louisville is ranked 119th in the country in terms of experience. "When I think about last season I think about the bowl game," Strong said. "The victory that we had, we were able to set the foundation for this program. There was 25 seniors on that football team. Out of those 25 seniors, 14 were starters. Now you lose 14 starters and you start thinking about rebuilding, and that's what we're in right now. We're in a phase of rebuilding. I know the governor said he didn't want to hear any weaknesses, but my team has a whole lot of weaknesses right now."
Neither coach said a ton about the game other than to say it's great for the state of Kentucky and has elevated both programs. As always, Phillips was asked about the timing of this year's game, which falls on the third week of the season. "We like it," Phillips said. "We both get two games prior to. It's an important game for both programs. I guarantee Charlie likes it this year. He talked about young his team is. If you've got a young team, you want to get some questions answered. I really like have two games prior to this game. Hopefully we can get both get some questions answered in those two games."
Former Kentucky basketball players Tayshaun Prince, Brandon Knight, DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrellson are in town this week to help out with the Prasco John Calipari ProCamp being held at the Joe Craft Center/Memorial Coliseum. More than 500 kids ages 7-18 will be on hand for the camp.
There will be a media opportunity with each play over the next three days, which we'll get video from. First up are Prince and Knight.
Apologies for the lack of content this week. I've been pulled away from the blog for the past several days and it may be pretty slow on here for the rest of the week as well. In the meantime, here are a couple of notes to catch you up on what's going on around Big Blue Nation that we haven't already covered on the front page of UKathletics.com.
The frantic and frenzied post-lockout moves of the NFL have affected a former UK player again. A day after five Wildcats agreed to terms with NFL teams, word broke out that former defensive end Jeremy Jarmon has been traded from the Washington Redskins to the Denver Broncos. Jarmon was traded for wide receiver Jabar Gaffney. Jarmon was limited to five games last year because of an injury but made 11 appearances as a rookie in 2009, totaling eight tackles. The good news for Jarmon is he will get to reunite with former Kentucky linebacker Wesley Woodyard in Denver.
Derrick Locke received some bad news Wednesday when he was told by the Minnesota Vikings that he had failed his physical, meaning he likely won't join the team after all. Locke posted on his Facebook account that it's all the information he could provide right now. In all likelihood, the physical has something to do with the shoulder stinger that sidelined him midway through his senior season at UK. It was the main reason NFL teams passed on him in the NFL Draft. As we said Tuesday, if Locke can get healthy, he could be a major steal for a team. A lot of major publications listed him as one of the top 10 undrafted free agents available, including Sports Illustrated. UPDATE: Former teammate Alfonso Smith has posted on his Twitter account that Locke has been picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles.
As the Lexington Herald-Leader reporter a couple of days ago, UK women's basketball point guard Crystal Riley has suffered a minor injury but is expected to be back in plenty of time for the start of the season. Riley broke her non-shooting hand in a weight room accident and is expected to miss four to six weeks. Riley, who will be a senior this year, served primarily as a back last year and averaged 2.8 points.
Men's basketball senior Darius Miller will leave at the end of this week to attend the 2011 USA Basketball Men's World University Games Team training camp. The training camp, which will be held July 29 through Aug. 7 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Spring, Colo., will be used to select the 12-member team that will represent the USA at the 2011 World University Games. Finalists for the team will be announced on July 31 with the official roster being announced prior to the teams' departure for China on Aug. 8. Miller has previous experience with USA Basketball as a member of the USA U19 team that won a gold medal at the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championships.
One thing you should tune back in for Thursday and Friday is some more preseason football coverage. Joker Phillips will be making appearances at the Governor's Cup Luncheon on Thursday and the Kickoff Luncheon on Friday. We'll have coverage of both of those events. Next Thursday is the first day players report and media days is that Friday.
"Our incoming class fought through the redshirt year together," Simpson said. "We also got a lot of support from the upperclassmen who had gone through the same thing."
Simpson spent his redshirt season working hard in the weight room, bulking up from 200 pounds to 220. He also focused on adjusting to college life and getting a jump on his academics.
"Last year was a little tough on him because he wanted to get on the field and play," Pioneers head coach Jeff Marksberry said. "He used his redshirt year the right way, getting in the weight room to get bigger and stronger and taking care of business in the classroom."
It is shocking news that has former teammates like J.P. Blevins reflecting on their time with Allison, "Desmond came in super talented, wasn't viewed as a polished player, shows up and two games in starts as a freshman, showed you how hard he worked especially on the defensive end, he will be missed."
Allison played for the Cats from 1998-2000, where he averaged over 6 points and 2 boards a game, but it's more than his game that stands out to Blevins, " most likeable guy on the team, was a clown, gift to lighten the mood, can't remember him having any bad days, always in a good mood, that's how i think about him."
Now as one of the squad's upperclassmen, Correll has fulfilled his destiny by continuing his family's legacy at Kentucky.
He did it with hard work, determination and a desire to play Division I football in one of the country's top conferences. It's with that drive that Kentucky football fans could be talking about Correll for the next two seasons.
"A lot of guys are big-name recruits and come out of high school with accolades and...no one really knew who I was, but I worked through that and got a chance to play and I'm grateful, but I'm still hungry for more."
Fully healthy now, Scharold is looking forward to contributing to the team in a bigger way in his sophomore campaign. The Wildcats coaches give their runner the opportunity to train on their own in the offseason and set their own pace for success and improvement.
"I'm running more than I have in previous summers," Scharold said. "I've learned to gradually build up my mileage in a healthy way."
Downs, who signed a three-year, $15-million deal with the Angels last winter, has stranded 19 of 21 inherited runners. Opponents are batting .167 (20 for 120) against him.
"When he pitched against us [for Toronto], you'd look at the radar-gun readings, you'd see he spins the ball well, and you're thinking, 'My gosh, does he ever make a mistake?' " Manager Mike Scioscia said.
"He has nice late life on his fastball, late tail or sink, depending on what he does with the ball, and he has terrific command. I don't know if there's a reliever we've seen who is pitching with the consistency of Scott."
Rondo said he has been talking to Pierce, Garnett and Allen regularly, and they are all worried about a potential long lockout.
The age of the returning Celtics also could become an issue. Allen just turned 36, Garnett is 35, and Pierce and Jermaine O'Neal will be 34 and 33, respectively, before next season starts. While health will always be a concern with an older team, a lockout-shortened season could actually benefit Boston.
Rondo, 25, isn't worried.
"They said we were done two years ago," Rondo said. "We could care less about that. We could care less about people saying we are done."
Wall started seeing the world much differently. The three jobs his mother juggled to keep a roof over his head and food on the table each night began to resonate with him. The times she'd pick him from school during lunch from one of her jobs is something he'll always remember.
"Seeing where I was just four years ago, and where I was going, and where I am makes me shake my head," Wall said. "Knowing and remembering what I've been through has always kept me hungry and working for all the things I have today. It's the reason why I'm here, talking to these kids. My message to them is never give up on your dreams, because I didn't give up on mine. Focus on what parents tell you and listen to them.
"I want to give these kids the same opportunity that I received. I plan on getting my college degree, too. It's a promise I gave my father that I plan on keeping."
Russ Cochran toasted a family victory at the Senior British Open on Sunday, capturing his first major title -- with his son as caddie -- to maintain the United States' recent dominance of the tournament.
Cochran shot a second straight five-under 67 in the final round at Walton Heath in Walton on the Hill, England, to win by two shots over his compatriot Mark Calcavecchia. Cochran's 25-year-old son, Reed, carried his bag.
"He relaxed me out there," Cochran said of Reed, who is on his summer break from law school. "He made me smile and was great to be with."
In his major-league debut, Cowgill started in left field and batted eighth for the Diamondbacks. He was 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts but made solid contact deep to the outfield in his first two at-bats and his team won 6-1.
With the NFL Lockout coming to an end this week and a flurry of transactional activity following that end, a number of undrafted former Wildcats are in conversations with NFL teams. A couple of them took to Twitter to break the news of where they will sign.
"God has blessed me with and opportunity to play on the next level and I'm taking it #Cleveland here I come" - @Caliboi_8 (wide receiver Chris Matthews)
"To #ArizonaCardinals I go" - @RickyDL53 (defensive lineman Ricky Lumpkin)
"Appreciate all the (shout-outs) ... off to the Bengals tomorrow morning!" - @DQcalikid55 (defensive lineman DeQuin Evans)
Quarterback Mike Hartline (Colts) and running back Derrick Locke (Vikings) also signed free agent deals with NFL teams. We have quotes from Coach Joker Phillips in the above link to the UK release about the signings, but here are stories from Cats Illustrated and the Lexington Herald-Leader that have quotes from the players themselves.
Video of the week
Brian Adams has gotten quite a bit of attention this year for his dual sport career at Kentucky. The wide receiver/outfielder has a bright future in both football and baseball at UK, but was all too close to not being able to see that future through. He recovered with a life-threatening blood clot that was spotted by Jim Madaleno of UK Sports Medicine. Here's the story, told by Adams, Madoleno and WDRB-TV's Pat Doney.
ESPN calls the tour a "carwash." Kentucky football head
coach Joker Phillips found out why Tuesday.
As if he was on a conveyor belt, Phillips went from stop to
stop on Tuesday at ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Conn., as a part of the
Southeastern Conference's 12-coach visit. Phillips did a number of interviews
during a four-hour visit to "The Worldwide Leader in Sports."
Among the many appearances Phillips made, he was featured on
College Football Live, ESPNEWS Sportscenter, an ESPNU podcast with Ivan Maisel,
a live chat on ESPN.com and a Twitter.com chat. He also ran into former NFL great Eric Allen, Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware, current UK softball player and ESPN intern Brittany Cervantes, and former UK offensive lineman and ESPN intern Marcus Davis.
The visit provided Phillips with a great opportunity to
market the Kentucky football program on a national level.
To give you an idea of the type of day Phillips went through
and the people he met, I've posted a few of pictures below, some links and
an excerpt of his ESPN.com chat.
UK football coach Joker Phillips poses for a picture with some of the SEC's football coaches at ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Conn.
UK football head coach Joker Phillips takes a picture with ESPN personality Erin Andrews.
Joker Phillips poses with former Heisman Trophy winner and ESPN college football analyst Andre Ware.
Coach, at what position do you think we need a freshman to make an immediate
Kentucky's Joker Phillips
Because of the production we lost at the WR position. That will be a
postition we'll have to look at as a position to help us. AS well as the RB.
Those two will be a place where we'll have to look long and hard for a freshman
to come in and help us.
Who do you expect to push Raymond Sanders for the starting job at RB?
Kentucky's Joker Phillips
Jonathan George had a good spring for us. He will be a guy that we'll look to
replace. Brandon Gainer. Other guys had good springs. And we'll be looking for
one or two of the freshmen to come in and play for us.
Coach, as a player and now a coach for Kentucky where do you think is the
toughest place in the SEC to play for a visiting opponent (except for UK)?
Kentucky's Joker Phillips
All of them are tough. That's the reason why the league is so tough. The
gameday atmospheres everywhere we play. It's a tough place to play. You have to
prepare your team mentally and physically to play week in week out.
zach legg (kentucky)
what can we see out of your defense this year?
Kentucky's Joker Phillips
We have changed our schemes. We have moved some personnel around. We will see
a different look. We will see a faster football team. We want to attack and be
aggressive. We want to create turnovers.
Will Winston Guy be able to back up his tweets this year by making plays at
his new position?
Kentucky's Joker Phillips
First of all, we think the change we made with Winston Guy from safety to OLB
rover position will help him make some plays. We think that he will benefit as
much as anyone in the changes we've made.
coach phillips what can we look for in kentucky,s running game this year?
Kentucky's Joker Phillips
To win in this league you have to be able to run the ball efficiently. We
were a good running team, we have to become a great running team this year. WE
feel like we have where it starts at and that's up front. We have four of the
five returning guys on the line. That helps you run the ball efficiently, a
quality OL who have been together a while and understand the schemes. And you
need the backs that can find the daylight. We feel like we have those.
Mike Hartline threw a career-high 23 touchdowns in 2010. (Associated Press)
And now Mike Hartline is off the board.
The former Kentucky quarterback has confirmed with the UK media relations department that he has agreed to join the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent.
After an up-and-down career at UK, Hartline shined in his senior season. The 6-foot-6, 206-pound gunslinger completed 268-of-405 passes last year for 3,178 yards and 23 touchdowns. The Canton, Ohio, native threw just nine interceptions.
Future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning is entrenched as the starter for at least the next few years, but Hartline will have a legitimate shot to make the roster. Former Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter is currently the only other quarterback on the Colts' roster.
Hartline is the fifth Wildcat (Chris Matthews, Derrick Locke, Ricky Lumpkin and DeQuin Evans) to reportedly agree with an NFL team on Tuesday, the first day since the NFL lockout was lifted. He'll be reunited with former UK tight end Jacob Tamme, who had a career year with 67 catches for 631 yards and four touchdowns a season ago.
DeQuin Evans totaled 7.5 sacks in two seasons at Kentucky. (photo by Barry Westerman)
Kent Spencer of WTVQ-36 is reporting that former Kentucky football defensive end DeQuin Evans has agreed to terms with the Cincinnati Bengals. The UK media relations department has been unable to confirm the deal with Evans.
According to Spencer, Evans will move from defensive end to strongside linebacker with the Bengals. Evans told Spencer he played a little linebacker during Kentucky's bowl game against Pittsburgh.
Evans' senior season failed to live up this junior year, but he finished the season with 16 tackles in 12 games, including four tackles for a loss. As a junior, Evans posted 23 tackles, 12.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks.
led Kentucky in rushing the last two seasons despite a series of injuries. The
5-foot-9, 190-pound tailback ran for 919 yards and 10 touchdowns in nine games
as a senior.
over a shoulder stinger/spine injury he suffered midway through the year led teams to pass over him on draft day. If Locke can prove he's
healthy, he could be one of the steals of the 2011 NFL season. Several
publications have him listed as the top undrafted free agent, including Sports
Vikings went 6-10 last season and have plenty of good running back depth with
Adrian Peterson (283 carries for 1,298 yards and 12 touchdowns) and Toby
Gerhart (81 attempts for 322 yards and one touchdown), but Locke figures to get
a look on special teams as returner.
appeared in 13 games for the Wildcats as a senior, totaling 21 tackles,
including 5.5 for a loss. The 6-foot-4, 306-pound defensive tackle from
Clarksville, Tenn., will join former UK running back and undrafted signee
Alfonso Smith on a 5-11 Arizona team.
Chris Matthews led UK with nine touchdown receptions last season as a senior. (UK Athletics)
Let the free-agent floodgates open.
One day since the NFL lockout came to an end, former Kentucky wide receiver Chris Matthews has reportedly joined the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent. Matthews announced the decision on his Twitter account, although he did not specify the terms of his contract or confirm that a deal has actually been signed.
"God has blessed me with (an) opportunity to play on the next level and I'm taking it," Matthews tweeted. "#Cleveland here I come(.)"
Matthews caught 61 balls last season for 925 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns. A 6-foot-5, 219-pound wide receiver from Los Angeles, Matthews will join a Cleveland team that 5-11 behind former Texas quarterback Colt McCoy.
Cleveland is in need of an established wide out as its two leading receivers last year were a tight end (Benjamin Watson) and a running back (Peyton Hillis). Former Georgia receiver Mohamed Massaquoi caught 36 balls for 483 yards and two touchdowns.
"Thanks for all the love now it's time to work," Matthews tweeted.
Former UK running back Derrick Locke announced on his Facebook account early Tuesday morning that he would be signing with a team in a couple of hours. There have been reports that he could land with the St. Louis Rams or Minnesota Vikings.
We'll have the latest signings for you right here as the news rolls in.
Allison played two seasons under former head coach Tubby Smith before being dismissed from the team after the 1999-2000 season. Allison played in 67 games as a Wildcat, averaging 6.1 points on 45.4 percent shooting. He went on to play Division II football at South Dakota after leaving UK.
Although his career never panned out at Kentucky like some would have hoped, there was no denying Allison's athletic ability.
The NFL is open for business again. So too are a handful of a former Kentucky football players.
The NFL lockout officially ended Monday after nearly five months of no football. That means UK's next crop of NFL players can finally start to negotiate with teams and get started on the next phase of their football lives.
The proposed timeline for the NFL to return to league business slates Tuesday as the first day teams can reach agreements with rookies and undrafted free agents. That process is supposed to begin at 10 a.m.
Yes, that means a guy like Randall Cobb, who was selected in the second round of the NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers, can finally start negotiating for his first professional contract. But for guys like Mike Hartline, Derrick Locke, Chris Matthews, Moncell Allen and Ricky Lumpkin, players who did not hear their names called on draft day, they can finally begin the process of finding a team.
Kentucky has made a remarkable improvement over the last few years of placing more of its alumni in the NFL, but the abbreviated offseason could certainly have significant implications on several former players. With such a short time until training camp begins - which, for most teams, is at the end of the week - the next few days are going to be frantic for both current and past UK players alike.
Below is a list of former UK players that were with teams at the end of the 2010 season. Keep in mind that players like former Kentucky wide receiver Keenan Burton are still trying to make their way back to the NFL.
Jennifer Smith of the Lexington Herald-Leader wrote a story about a month ago on what some of the undrafted players were doing during the lockout to prepare for the NFL. Check that out here.
Randall Cobb - Green Bay Packers John Conner - New York Jets Jeremy Jarmon - Washington Redskins Micah Johnson - Kansas City Chiefs Steve Johnson - Buffalo Bills Braxton Kelley - Denver Broncos Trevard Lindley - Philadelphia Eagles Tim Masthay - Green Bay Packers Glenn Pakulak - Oakland Raiders Corey Peters - Atlanta Falcons Myron Pryor - New England Patriots Alfonso Smith - Arizona Cardinals Jacob Tamme - Indianapolis Colts Gary Williams - Carolina Panthers Wesley Woodyard - Denver Broncos
Basketball Prospectus has ranked sophomore Terrence Jones the fourth-best player in the country. (UK Athletics)
If you haven't seen it already, Drew Cannon of Basketball Prospectus
embarked on an extensive project of ranking the top 100 men's basketball
players in Division I. Five Wildcats, including three freshmen, made the list.
North Carolina, which had six, was the only school that had more players in the
Let me be
the first to say that I had never heard of Basketball Prospectus or who
Cannon was until this release of rankings. But that's not to say that Cannon's
rankings are right or wrong.
The reason the list is worth checking out is how Cannon got
the final 100. As he explains it on his website, Cannon basically separated
players into groups and then asked the opinions of several experts, including
Dave Telep of ESPN.com and NBA personnel at NBA camps, before formulating a
giant bracket. The explanation Cannon came up with to form the top 100 is a little
technical, but the point is the rankings were well researched and, for the most
Below are the five UK players that made the list along with an
excerpt of Cannon's write-up. I have a hard time believing Darius Miller isn't
one of the top 100 players in the country, but ranking the top 100 players is
no easy task.
62. Marquis Teague, Kentucky (Fr., PG)
With Brandon Knight off to the NBA, Teague should take the ball from day one at
UK. He's an incredible slasher with great speed and athleticism. Teague's not a
real shooting threat and his decision-making has been questioned, but he seems
like such a can't-miss scorer that I still feel comfortable putting him this
43. Doron Lamb, Kentucky (So.,
Lamb was sometimes considered streaky or worse from beyond the arc in high
school, but he was only two makes from hitting 50 percent of his 140
three-point attempts in 2011. A role expansion would normally be in order, but
Marquis Teague, Terrence Jones, and Anthony Davis will probably leave Lamb the
Wildcats' fourth offensive option. He'll just be the best one of those in the
29. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist,
Kentucky (Fr., SF)
In the summer of 2009 Kyrie Irving, Jared Sullinger, Harrison Barnes, Brandon
Knight, Tristan Thompson, Terrence Jones, Perry Jones, and Michael
Kidd-Gilchrist were all at NBA Camp for four days. And, with a deafening lack
of argument, the Most Promising Prospect Award went to Kidd-Gilchrist. His
combination of terrifying athleticism and unwavering competitiveness is
exceedingly rare. Both tools are elite, separately. Kidd-Gilchrist's scoring
comes in the flow of the offense, though his long-range jumper leaves something
to be desired.
21. Anthony Davis, Kentucky (Fr., PF)
Davis is a serious talent with tons of upside. I think he's ready to play and
contribute in the SEC right now. Davis was a guard less than two years ago, and
he still has legitimate guard skills. He's a scary defender. It's just that
I've seen him on teams with less talent than the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats will
have, and on those teams he's been forgotten on offense for long stretches. If
Davis demands the ball and takes a measure of control of this UK team, he'll
have a tough time staying off the All-America list at the end of the year.
4. Terrence Jones, Kentucky (So., PF)
Jones's decision to return for his sophomore year surprised me more than any
other player's. The lefty made first team All-SEC, was high on every draft
board, and spent his freshman year under John Calipari. It seemed like a given
he'd be playing NBA ball this November (or at least waiting for the lockout to
end). But fresh off co-leading a young team to the Final Four, he's still at
UK. Jones is a very good rebounder who can get to the line and rarely turns the
ball over. His shooting percentages last year were just 47/33/65; if he lives
up to this billing it'll be because those numbers improve. He projects to have
significantly scarier frontcourt mates in 2012, where the departed Josh
Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins will be replaced with top-3-ranked freshmen
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis. Defenses won't be able to key in on Jones
like they could last year. With a little more help and slightly smarter shot
selection, he should be SEC Player of the Year.
Below is the third excerpt of the series Guy Ramsey and I are
doing for CoachCal.com. We are
profiling the Kentucky men's basketball team's five newcomers in an
exclusive series for CoachCal.com. Because it's an exclusive, we can
only post a portion of the story below. You'll have to head over to CoachCal.com to read the full story.
Kyle Wiltjer is somewhat of a movie buff.
Living just a few minutes away from a video store at his old house in
Portland, Ore., Wiltjer used to run up the street and rent films at least once a
week. Wiltjer would pop in the movies, sit back and marvel at art as its put
At that stage in Wiltjer's life, Steven Speilberg, Martin Scorsese and
Quentin Tarantino were at the top of their games mastering their craft. It seems
only natural that a movie buff like Wiltjer would be into at least one of
Turns out he's into a different kind of film. Growing up, Wiltjer was much
more interested in watching Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan
Born after the prime of Bird and Johnson's career, and with only a few
memories of Jordan's historic run in the late 1990s, Wiltjer didn't let time
affect his chance at seeing some of basketball's legends. Instead, he rented
film after film, watching, learning and studying the game's greatest
When Wiltjer talks about them and some of the players he used to watch
growing up, his eyes widen and his voice perks up. Just about every basketball
player has a player they looked up to or emulated, but Wiltjer has quite the
In addition to Bird, Johnson and Jordan, there's Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash,
Kevin Love and even Arvydas Sabonis (Wiltjer admits his admiration of Sabonis
derives from his unabashed love for the Portland Trailblazers).
As much as you can call an 18-year-old a historian of the game, that's
exactly what Wiltjer is. He's an astute follower. When Wiltjer discovered
YouTube, he ditched the films for highlights and amateur mix tapes. It's not
uncommon for Wiltjer to watch YouTube highlights seven nights a week.
Wiltjer has used the mental reels of film to his advantage in his rise to one
of the top incoming freshmen in the country. While the average fan watches a
basketball highlight in awe, Wiltjer studies it and applies it to his game like
a sponge soaking up water.
"I try to pick up and practice moves I get from those tapes," Wiltjer said.
"I loved how skilled Larry Bird was. He just didn't miss in his highlight tapes.
My favorite clip is when he scores like 40 points all with his left hand. I
thought it was pretty unbelievable that he could play with competition like that
and do something like that."
Jacob Lewellen, a junior defensive end on the UK football team, has been nominated for the AFCA Good Works Team. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
The carnage lay before Jacob Lewellen like a bad dream.
Joplin, Mo., a once modest-sized town on the western border of the state, had been ravaged by one of the deadliest tornadoes in American history. Where houses once stood, rubble now lay. Fifty-year-old trees were snapped, splintered and toppled as if they were toothpicks.
So what was Lewellen, a junior defensive end on the Kentucky football team with no ties to the town, doing in Joplin? He was doing the only thing he knows how to do: helping others in need.
"Getting involved with the community is just one of those things that has kind of opened my eyes," Lewellen said. "It allows the community to see us players in a different light. It's one thing to give back because I get all the opportunities being a college athlete, but to give back what precious time you have is important because people need it."
Lewellen's philanthropy efforts haven't gone unnoticed as he was recently announced as a
nominee for the prestigious Allstate American Football Coaches
Association Good Works Team, widely considered to be college football's
premier community service award.
"To give back is more than how
it makes me feel; it's getting to see the smiles on those other people's
faces or getting to experience it with your teammates and other
athletes on campus," Lewellen said. "That's how you grow as a team, and
when you grow as a team in the community it just makes sports and
athletics that much more fun to be around."
Lewellen hasn't been the star player on UK's football team, recording just two tackles over the last two seasons, but his numbers on the field aren't what define him. A two-time defensive Scout Team Player of the Week as a sophomore, Lewellen knows his hard work in preparing the team doesn't go unnoticed by his peers. He also knows his role with the team is still evolving and changing.
"A lot of coaches rely on me to know what's going on, to know film, to know behind the scenes work, to help get the players who are playing ready," Lewellen said. "... To prepare my team the best way I can has been exciting and exhilarating because people notice it. It's just kind of one of those things where I'm glad my teammates appreciate what I do for them."
What Lewellen doesn't have in statistics, he does have in community service deeds that make him a greater star in the eyes of so many others. Participating in the community has been something he's practiced and preached frequently during his time with the Wildcats, so when Joplin was devastated in May by a tornado that killed more than 100 people, it was Lewellen who responded like a star and found a way to contribute.
Lewellen, who has spent his past two spring breaks with "Athletes in Action" doing mission work in Nicaragua and Daytona Beach, Fla., got the idea to help the town of Joplin, after hearing of a shoe drive at Southland Christian Church. Lewellen got together with several other UK athletes and staff members and packed bags on the back patio at the Nutter Training Center to take to Joplin.
Lewellen also got teammates from the football team to donate some of their money to the cause, and together, he, his dad and teammate Max Godby drove to Joplin to help out.
The three men went to a church in Joplin where they delivered 100 bags filled with toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, hand sanitizer, folders, pens, pencils, paper and bibles. In Joplin, Lewellen saw schools, hospitals and houses leveled to the ground. Working for about eight hours in 100-degree heat, Lewellen was taken aback at the experience.
"It's crazy to see how much that tornado just devastated everything," Lewellen said. "It's like a bomb went off in each separate house."
Lewellen's work to organize the donations and drive down, personally, to the town is just one example of his off-field résumé. Lewellen has also been a guest speaker at local elementary schools, met with local veterans and befriended a 3-year-old cancer patient named Josh at Lexington's Hope Lodge.
His drive, he says, to commit his time to the community and help others in need, comes from his faith and religion.
"Those values that have been instilled in me motivate me to do it," Lewellen said. "I've kind of had a life where I had everything. I haven't needed any help; my parents covered everything. I'm lucky. But to go anywhere and see kids, adults, anyone who needs help, is like, 'I have extra time.' It might only be an hour or two here or there, but I can go work at a community center in downtown Lexington, hang out with kids, help them stay out of trouble, or go to Joplin, or go to Nicaragua, or go to places not everyone gets to go to and donate some time."
To be named to the AFCA Good Works Team would be nice, Lewellen said, but it's not about being recognized per say. Instead, Lewellen said it's about the act itself, and whether he wins it or not, that will always be the case.
"It's all about doing it for fun and doing it because I have a platform not everyone else has," Lewellen said. "Kids in the community recognize you when you're a college athlete because they know it takes something a little extra to play college sports. They see that we give back, with our busy schedules, and it makes them want to do better. We just get involved with their lives and they start to change.
"To give back as much as I can is all I can really do because Kentucky has given me so much."
Junior quarterback Morgan Newton has thrown for 971 yards and six touchdowns in two years at UK. (photo by Padraic Major)
As if dealing with questions about their first losing season in five years wasn't enough, Thursday's trip to Southeastern Conference Media Days for the Kentucky football team was a little bit like rubbing salt into the wound.
The temperature was noticeably different and six months have passed, but the reminders of disappointment surrounded them. Returning to the same hotel (the Wynfrey Hotel) and same city (Birmingham, Ala.) in which UK lost its last bowl game, the 2011 BBVA Compass Bowl, Thursday's SEC Media Days appearance was a brutal reminder of how frustrating it can be to come so close to breaking through for head coach Joker Phillips, seniors Danny Trevathan and Stuart Hines, and junior Morgan Newton.
The Kentucky football program has endured a valiant march from the depths of the league to conference and national relevance over the last five years, but the team struggled to climb the wall last year and hit a plateau with its second straight bowl loss.
In his second year as head coach, and as a longtime player and assistant, Phillips is tired of just being close. He wants to stay in the title race a lot longer than his team has been.
"I think we've very, very close," Phillips told hundreds of reporters at SEC Media Days. "We've been competing in this league for the last six, seven years where we have been in a lot of games (and) lost a lot of close games. The thing that's going to get us over the hump is being the most disciplined team, being the most physical team, and also having mental toughness."
Phillips said when they left Birmingham last time, he asked his players if they were ready to do the right things with the right attitude and with the right maturity because "that's what it's going to take for (UK) to continue to rise in this league."
The players answered the challenged in spring practice and offseason workouts, Phillips said.
"We've beaten some of the traditional powers in this league," Phillips said. "The thing we have to do is beat them consistently. There were three teams out there (South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee) that had a long winning streak against us. We were able to knock one of those (South Carolina) off this past year. Our goal is to knock those teams off."
Lacking the familiar faces of star power from a year ago, including NFL Draft pick Randall Cobb, starting quarterback Mike Hartline and leading rusher Derrick Locke, one might wonder how the Kentucky program plans to rise up the ranks of the SEC, as Phillips tried to beat home Thursday.
Phillips reminded reporters that Kentucky has been in this position before when it experienced a mass exodus of veterans following the 2007 season. UK followed that class up with a 7-6 season, including a victory in the Liberty Bowl.
Senior offensive lineman Stuart Hines believes this team is similar.
"People really want to make a name for themselves," Hines said. "Nobody knew who Derrick Locke was or Randall Cobb was coming in. We've got guys that feel that way. Nobody knows who I am. I want to make a name for myself. I want to step up and be that guy that we can depend on."
Maybe the biggest question mark this season is at wide receiver. In addition to Mr. Do Everything, Cobb, UK loses Chris Matthews (61 catches for 925 yards and nine touchdowns) to graduation.
An inexperienced receiving corps that features just three wide outs - juniors La'Rod King and Gene McCaskill and senior Matt Roark - who have at least one double-digit reception season will be counted on to fill a huge void. If they can't get the job done, Phillips has brought in a signing class that is heavy on natural wide outs, a recruiting first, Phillips says.
"Randall was a great player and there were a lot of great players on our side last year, but you try to learn from those guys and try to teach some of these young guys to step up," Newton said. "It might take a couple of players to step in and do some of the things Randall did, but that's why we've got 85."
Newton, in his own right, doesn't possess a ton of experience, as he threw more passes his freshman season (75) than his sophomore year (25). But Newton has carried himself differently since winning the starting job and said he learned how to be a successful quarterback in the SEC after studying Hartline.
"When you know you're going to be out there in the fire, it makes it easier to work and prepare," Newton said. "I just think that's human nature. Preparing for the season as a starter, sometimes it takes some of the pressure off knowing that you're going to have to compete in practice with different things, but it also gives you the opportunity to really focus on your skills and really focus on becoming a better player every day."
Early on, at least, Kentucky may have to lean on a defense that features a new scheme from co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter and returns its top 11 tacklers, including the SEC's top tackler from a year ago, Trevathan.
"I don't feel pressure," Trevathan said. "I feel like it's an opportunity. I feel like it's an opportunity to bring a lot of guys with me and try to improve in areas I lacked, like being a leader. (I need to) motivate guys, do extra stuff and just come in and take care of business. That's what a leader does. He knows what he needs to do and he does it."
Trevathan to return kickoffs?
Senior linebacker Danny Trevathan led the SEC in tackles in 2010 with 144 stops. (photo by Padraic Major)
For everything Cobb did for UK over the last three years, replacing his dynamic kickoff skills may be the toughest to replace. Cobb's kickoff counterpart, Locke, is also gone, meaning two positions are up for grabs on special teams.
Of all the players to want the job, who would have guessed it'd be Trevathan, a 6-foot-1, 232 pound linebacker?
Trevathan actually experimented with kick returns a couple of years ago under former coach Rich Brooks until a hand injury forced him from duty. Now that both of his mitts are back at 100 percent, Trevathan said he's been practicing at it again.
"I had a real good opportunity until I broke my hand," Trevathan said. "I couldn't run with the ball. But I'm going to try to take (the job)."
"I'm glad that we're having dialogue," Phillips said. "In the end, the biggest thing is making sure that the persons that are getting taken care of that need to be taken care of, which are the players. That's what matters."
However, Phillips isn't quite ready yet to endorse the deal until he hears more facts.
"There's a lot of factors involved," Phillips said. "I understand that. Right now, having this dialogue has now gotten us to the fact-finding phase of this thing. I think as we continue to find out the facts, (we might) come up with some answers that might fit.
"Those factors, you have to understand, are not just about football and basketball, but it's about all the sports involved. It's not just about football. We've got to come up with answers to those solutions also to be able to take care of everybody."
'Dear general manager'
Phillips can't quite get down the name of the social media phenomenon that is Twitter - Phillips called "tweeting" "twitting," and admitted his ignorance of the subject - but he fully understands the consequences of the national craze.
Asked Thursday about his team's social media policies, Phillips said he's told his players to post only what they would say in front of a camera. Phillips wants them to view Twitter like a job interview.
"That interview never goes away," Phillips said. "We've had a couple guys that said some things on Twitter or tweet and we tell them to say 'Dear general manager,' (because that's basically) who you're sending it to. You're not just sending it to a friend or a fan; you're sending it to everybody across the country. Some general manager is going to get what you said."
UK has a compliance official in place that monitors the social media activity of Kentucky's student-athletes and coaches.
McIntosh on scholarship
Craig McIntosh's journey from UK's ROTC program, to trying out for the football team as a walk-on, to earning part-time duty and then winning the starting job last year is already a pretty remarkable one.
But after making 11-of-15 field goals last year, including two 50-yard bombs, McIntosh has earned a scholarship from the football team. The junior from Lexington Christian Academy will enter the season as the starting placekicker.
Russ Pear needs a clone. At the very least, he could use another two or three hours in a day.
Pear, senior associate athletics director for facilities and operations at Kentucky, unofficially owns the title as the busiest man in the UK Athletics Department this summer. Pear and Scott Clark, as the two officials heading UK's numerous facility projects this summer, haven't had much time to enjoy the offseason.
"The schedule has been really hectic," Pear said. "Every year Scott Clark and I say, 'If we can just get through this year, there is no way it can be this busy next year.' "
But few - if any - summers have been as busy as this one for Pear and Clark as they march through the heart of their most important season to date.
In an ongoing effort to upgrade and renovate UK's facility infrastructure, Pear and Clark are leading five major facility projects this summer, in addition to planning for future developments and maintaining the current foundation.
The five projects include:
The installation of two Daktronics high definition video boards, light-emitting diode ribbon boards and a new sound system at Commonwealth Stadium
A brand new $12 million track facility
A new playing surface at the UK Soccer Complex
An interior renovation of the Shively Training Facility
The Commonwealth Stadium upgrades, which will include new sod, are expected to be ready for the home opener against Central Michigan on Sept. 10.
With the addition of the video and sound system, which is expected to cost close to $6 million (demolition and installation included), UK Athletics has invested more than $14 million in renovations and upgrades to football facilities at Commonwealth Stadium, Nutter Training Center and Nutter Field House over the last six years.
Last year, Pear and his crew renovated the Nutter Training Facility, revamping the football team's weight room, locker room and meeting rooms. Where folding chairs used to sit in small rooms, expanded meeting rooms, similar to miniature theaters, have been refurbished.
"When you've got six or eight offensive linemen in a room that's smaller than this office, it's just not very functional," Pear said of the previous meeting rooms.
Also, a main meeting room, equipped with projection screens and "smart" technology, has replaced old racquetball courts in Nutter. The room can be used for team-wide film sessions, presentations or recruiting purposes.
Even if the upgrades aren't just a case of keeping up with the Joneses of the Southeastern Conference, the additions were imperative for a program that's trying to rise in the nation's strongest league.
"I don't see us engaging as much in the arms race as much as I see us getting things functional and up to date for today's athletes," Pear said. "That doesn't mean we weren't paying attention before, but if someone builds one for $2 million, that doesn't mean you go build one for $3 million."
One might raise an eyebrow at the upgrades to football if they were the only additions going on, but Pear has had his hands full with plenty of other sports and facilities.
The front facing of one of the two old scoreboards at Commonwealth Stadium is nearly complete. The installation of the new Daktronics video boards is expected to start in early August. (photo by Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
"We know what keeps the overall ship afloat, but every sport is important," Pear said. "Mitch (Barnhart) started that attitude from an overall operations standpoint. We place just as much importance in our softball program, our baseball program and our gymnastics program, just like we do with our football program."
Case in point: Pear's biggest project this summer is the $12 million track facility being constructed between the old Shively Track and baseball's Cliff Hagan Stadium. As Pear termed it, it's a "complete redo" of the facility.
Nothing more than a smoothed dirt field at the moment, the new track facility is expected to be operational for the spring 2012 season. Without an outdoor track facility for the next few months, the track and field and cross country teams will use the Nutter Field House as its practice facility. Other designated areas around UK's campus will be set up for track and field's throwers.
The construction is an inconvenience for the teams during the building process, but the previous facility was bordering on unusable. Last year, Barnhart tabbed the existing track's conditions as "unacceptable."
"We've basically had a track that's been non-functional from a collegiate competitive standpoint," Pear said.
Pear is hopeful the foundation of the actual track will be completed before winter arrives, allowing the team a means of outdoor practice while the stadium seating, concourse and other structures are built around it.
The hope is to host six to eight collegiate and high school meets a year, including the Southeastern Conference Championships and the state high school track meet, but no events have been scheduled for the 2012 spring season as a precaution for potential construction delays.
"It brings people to campus both from a competitive standpoint for recruiting but also just to our campus," Pear said of the advantage of a new track. "A lot of the things we've done over the years with state high school tournaments, there are probably only a select few that may be SEC-caliber athletes, but the bottom line is you get people on campus who say this is a nice place and they want to come to school at the University of Kentucky."
Just down the street, Pear and his crew are about to embark on a $950,000 interior facelift of the Shively Training Facility, which houses the locker rooms and weight room of several Olympic sports, including the baseball and men's and women's track and field teams.
Pear said the bare basics of the facility - the heating, the ventilation and the structure - are still in good shape, but the complex is in need of some updates. Beginning in about a week, new drywall, new ceilings, new floors - the "whole bit," as Pear described it - will be laid at Shively, specifically in the locker rooms of each team.
By the completion of the project, which should end in November, the goal is to give Shively the look and feel of a modern facility.
"The hallways, we're going to transform those so that when you walk in to Shively, you don't know if you're walking into the Craft Center or into Shively Sports Center," Pear said.
The new field at UK Soccer Complex is perhaps the smallest project that Pear and his crew are managing this summer, but right now it's the most critical to get finished in preparation for the Aug. 23 women's soccer home opener. A construction crew dug up the old field months ago, but a freak weather year has delayed the crew from laying the new sod.
"It's been one of those crazy years for weather," Pear said. "It wasn't like we had rain for two weeks straight, but we would get rain for two days straight and it would be so wet that you'd have to wait. By the time you were about to get back on it, it would rain again. We're just at a critical point right now at trying to be ready for the first game."
Pear said the renovation of the field isn't just new sod. Old drains are being repaired and the base of the field is being reconstructed. Because of the draining problems of the old soil, the new soccer field will be a sand-capped surface with moisture sensors in the field that will allow the Sports Turf department the ability to monitor soil moisture levels and reduce overwatering. Six inches of sand will sit on top of the base of the soil and then Bermuda grass will grow on top of that.
Other minor renovations will be made to the UK Soccer Complex in addition to a permanent tower to shoot film.
Of course, with all these projects going on, many might ask when a new baseball stadium might come or what the update is on a new basketball arena. The city of Lexington is currently studying the feasibility of redesigning and renovating Rupp Arena and the Lexington Center.
Future projects that are on the docket include moving the fences back at the UK Softball Complex and the addition of a new video/scoreboard. Pear also said men's tennis coach Dennis Emery is working hard to get some supporters to the table to fundraise an expansion at Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex. That renovation, which is still in the planning stages, would include an expansion of four courts to six courts in the indoor facility, plus updated locker rooms.
Pear has a giant board in his office to organize the numerous projects going on and to help him look to the future. Prioritizing what needs to be done for an aging infrastructure can be a difficult job, but Pear said they have to look at UK's facilities situation as a need-to-need basis.
"We've gone around and looked at everything and said, 'That would be nice, but that's not exactly what we need. What we need is this,' " Pear said. "Mitch has made it a priority now to make sure that when he retires, that part of the department is in good shape to where another AD won't have to worry about it."
Fundraising, of course, also factors into prioritizing the facilities projects, as does the year-to-year fiscal budget. The list can change on a frequent basis, and capital dollars must also be allocated to Kentucky's normal facility operations, like painting and sprucing up UK's current facilities.
"You want a plan of the things we're looking at down the road and try to attack those in order of whatever priority you set them in," Pear said. "Sometimes the priority changes because of certain circumstances. If a donor comes forward and says, 'I'd like to do this and here's what I'd like to do,' you need to listen. Unless we're going to get in a capital campaign, this is how we have to do these things."
It's made for one busy summer for Pear and his crew.
Below is the complete transcript from Joker Phillips' Q and A with print reporters at Southeastern Conference Media Days in Birmingham, Ala.
We'll have a notebook from UK's session with the media later Thursday, but in the meantime, check out the excerpt below and head to the SEC Digital Network for the latest video and quotes.
COACH PHILLIPS: Good morning. How you doing?
I read online there were over a thousand media folks going to be here, a thousand of you being here today. A sure sign of how college football has grown nationally and how big it is in the SEC.
It's great to be here for a second season, being able to represent the University of Kentucky, my alma mater, and also the SEC. I'm privileged and proud to be able to do those things. I want to thank you guys for what you guys do in covering our student-athletes and covering the SEC. Our student-athletes are the most important thing in this job.
Our theme this year is 'Rise.' Our marketing department came up with the theme rise. We have shown that we at Kentucky can compete in this league.
Our challenge to our players, our veteran players and our young players, our new players, is to try to fill the void of some of the departure players we just lost. We lost a lot of production out of this past class. We have challenged our present players, our new players, to make sure that they are filling that void.
In order for this program to continue to rise we have got to do the things that is necessary for it to rise. 'Rise' meaning not just going to bowl games, but being able to contend for championships in this league.
One of the questions that I had for this football team when we left here in January was, Are you ready to do the right things with the right attitude, with the right maturity, with the right focus every day? That's what it's going to take for us to continue to rise in this league, to continue to have success in this tough league. That's what we talked about the first meeting when we left here Birmingham with the BBVA Bowl in January.
All of our players have done a great job in accepting the challenges that we put in front of them. So we're proud of that.
We made some positive changes to our coaching staff, what we think are positive changes. We added Rick Minter as our co-defensive coordinator. He will actually run the defense. We have Steve Pardue, a long time Kentuckian and long time coach in the state of Georgia. He'll coach our running backs.
I think you'll see more results from the year and a half that our football team has been under Coach Rock Oliver, his strength and conditioning staff. Our players will look different. They're a lot bigger, stronger, faster, leaner. A lot of that has to do with coach rock Oliver in strength and conditioning.
You'll see some familiar faces, Danny Trevathan, Stuart Hines, Larry Warford, Morgan Newton. Those are familiar faces you'll see. But we are excited about some of the new faces.
We're impressed what we saw in the spring. Y'all still will see some new faces that just walked in the door from the buzz that we're getting from our strength and conditioning program and our present players. I think it's exciting when our players understand what it takes to win in this league and they start buzzing about some of the players who just walked in the door.
We are doing a lot of things to elevate this program to the next level. We've been 8-5. We dropped to 6-7 this past year. The thing we have to do, and I've told this football team, The teams that are successful in this league are the teams that have discipline, teams that are physical, teams that are tough, have toughness. Those are the things that we've got to strive to get back to.
With that, what do you guys want to talk about?
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for Coach Phillips.
Q. Coach, could you talk about your decision to hire Rick Minter. You worked together at Cincinnati. What are you looking for him to do? How much did it help that he coached in a bowl game?
COACH PHILLIPS: First of all, I worked with Rick in '97, '98 at the University of Cincinnati on both sides of the ball. Worked on offense and defense one year. The guy has a wealth of knowledge. He's been a mentor to me for a long time.
The thing that we wanted to achieve on defense was be more attacking, be more aggressive. If you look across this league, what's winning is teams that are playing great defense. For us to take this thing to the next level, that's being in the race as long as we possibly can, we have to play great defense.
The style that we were looking for, I was just explaining, we want to create minus-yard plays, we want to create turnovers to have success in this league. I think it will be very beneficial for us as a football team, as a football program, that Rick Minter came in for the bowl prep and got those 15, 16 practices that we were able to have during the bowl prep. I really liked the fact we played late. We didn't play till January the 8th. That allowed us to get more practices in, get more comfortable with the schemes that Rick will implement.
Q. You obviously were the coach-in-waiting under Rich Brooks. Talk about that. Do you still go to him for advice? Is he still close to the program at UK?
COACH PHILLIPS: You know, I am close to Rich Brooks. Rich Brooks is another mentor of mine. I do talk to Rich. I don't talk to him as much as when I first took over, but we do communicate. Got a voicemail from him yesterday with all the things going on. Haven't had a chance to return it, but I will.
He is not around as much. He is going back and forth from Oregon, California, Kentucky. He usually comes to Kentucky during the meets. We do get to see him during the fall for some games, in the spring for some spring practices.
Definitely I think the head-coach-in-waiting, my situation was different than a lot of the ones that have been in this position of head-coach-in-waiting. The reason I say it's different, I was a part of building what we had at Kentucky. A lot of the other guys came in. I think it was a little different for those guys coming into a program and taking over. It was a little different for me.
I think it was a lot better for me with the staff because I had been a part of it. A lot of those guys understood how much Kentucky football meant to me. Had I came in from the outside, I'm not sure they would have understood that.
Q. Coach, when you look around this league, the running backs seem to be taking over the league now. The quarterbacks, a lot of uncertainty. I don't know if we're going back to the '80s, but it kind of looks like that. Secondly, how hard is it to get over that wall? You have gotten to the wall, a long fight to get to that wall, but to get over that wall and be a contender in the SEC East?
COACH PHILLIPS: I've been a part of this league since 1981, as a player and coach for 18, actually 19 years, one at South Carolina. The six years I was out of this league, I still paid attention to this league.
Running backs have been a huge part in this league since I walked on campus in 1981. I don't think anything's changed there. Kentucky did become more of a passing team back in the late '90s. But still people threw it to the running back and the running back made plays. It's still a running back league.
How tough is it for us to get over the wall? I mean, I think we're very, very close. We're very, very close. We've been competing in this league for the last six, seven years where we have been in a lot of games, lost a lot of close games. The thing that's going to get us over the hump is being the most disciplined team, being the most physical team, and also having mental toughness, the things we talked about earlier.
We've beaten some of the traditional powers in this league. The thing we have to do is beat them consistently. Three teams out there that had a long winning streak against us. We were able to knock one of those this past year. Our goal is to knock those teams off. The thing that's going to get us to that level, being physical, being disciplined, being mentally tough.
Q. You produced what most would consider an elite player in Randall Cobb. You've gone to bowl games. How much more receptive are prospects in recruiting now as opposed to three or four or five years ago?
COACH PHILLIPS: Every year we've had a marquee player in this league, the dynamic player since we've been here. We had Jared Lorenzen, we were out there selling. Rafael Little became the face of our program. Keenan Burton became the face of our program, Andre' Woodson. Then comes Randall Cobb. He was the face of our program.
We were able to attract in one of the kids that are here, Morgan Newton, by selling Andre' Woodson. We were able to go out and find five true wide receivers, which was a need of ours, by selling Randall Cobb. We were able to get Randall Cobb and those other receivers we got in his class three years ago, by selling Keenan Burton. By being able to sell the guys that we just talked about has given us a chance to get into some homes, because other players like other players. They like watching dynamic players.
Randall Cobb was one of those dynamic players. Wasn't offered by a lot of people. That's why I'm really excited about this recruiting class that we're putting together now.
We have 13 commitments. Of the 13 commitments, we have 10 of them that we had in our camp. Randall Cobb was one of those guys that we had in our camp that we were able to identify. We were able to sit down and talk and discuss football with Randall Cobb, to understand what this guy has what it takes to be a great player. This guy has the desire, determination and will to be a great player in this league.
I'm exciting about this recruiting class we put together because our coaching staff have been in front of those guys, have had a chance to work with those guys for a couple hours. It's an exciting time to be a Wildcat.
Q. Could you talk about the mental part of the coaching game, what it takes to get your program to the next level in that aspect.
COACH PHILLIPS: The mental part of the coaching game? We talk about 95% of the game is mental. 95% of the game is mental. Sometimes you have to play mind games. You have to put them in situations that might come up in a game.
A lot of those situations change. I mean, I watch games. People say, Why do you watch college football when that's what you do? I watch games so I might see a situation that we might not have practiced. It's hard to come up with all the situations that might come up. So you have to be mentally ready for those things when they come.
I like the fact we play a lot of night games. Jerry Claiborne used to do this with us when I played, Did you see what happened to Such-and-Such today? We got to be sound in the kicking game. Here is the reason why. Understand what happened to this team.
So I like watching games also throughout the day to try to put myself as a head coach into situations, Should I use a timeout here or wouldn't I? I think that's a huge part of being a college football coach.
UK football head coach Joker Phillips stressed the importance of taking the next step and competing for an SEC championship at SEC Media Days on Thursday. (photo by Padraic Major)
Q. Joker, Greg Schiano generated a lot of conversation this summer with a proposal that basically do away with kickoffs. Although that doesn't seem very likely to happen anytime soon, do you think something will be done to address player safety on kickoffs? What was your reaction to his proposal?
COACH PHILLIPS: Well, I understand the situation that Greg faced up at Rutgers. But I really like the fact that we move the kickoff so we'll have more kickoffs. I don't know if there's been as much as we thought there would be. I see a lot of kickoffs, guys getting a lot stronger kicking the ball in the end zone.
My reaction to it was I understand his situation, but I think I like the fact that we have the kicking game, we have punts, we have kickoff returns. I think it's given us a chance to get great field position with the guys we have.
If you look at the stats in the last few years, we've always had one of the top all-purpose guys in the SEC, the reason being is because of our ability to return kicks and punts.
Q. How do you think Steve Pardue is going to impact the program this year? What are your expectations for what he'll bring to the table?
COACH PHILLIPS: First of all, Steve Pardue is a Kentuckian. You look at our staff, there's five Kentuckians on our staff, three ex-lettermen at our place. Might not be important at some other places, but I think it's important for Kentucky football that there are guys that truly want to be there.
I mentioned it last year. It's juice, it's passion for the job that you have. I think Steve Pardue brings that to us at Kentucky. The impact that he'll have on us I think will be huge, especially in the state of Georgia and western Kentucky because Steve grew up in western Kentucky.
He's been in the state of Georgia for a long time, been on the Coaches Association Board. We want to get more into south Georgia. We feel we've done a really good job in the Atlanta and central Georgia area. We want to get in the south Georgia area to see if we can attract more quality players, and Steve brings that to us.
Q. Coach, how important are recruiting services to your recruiting process? Is it a place where you get film or is it easier to get film from the high schools individually?
COACH PHILLIPS: It's very important, first of all, because it gives you a lead on kids in some areas, especially when you're in a state like ours that do not produce as many players as the other states in the Southeastern Conference. I think it's very important.
I don't think it's as important nowadays to get video and those things from them. I think getting the literature is plenty for us, gives us a starting point. But we also try to recruit the same areas year in and year out, which our coaches should know.
But being in Kentucky, we can't hit every school in Alabama. We can't hit every school in Georgia. We just don't have the manpower. We can't put seven out there at a time. So we don't have the manpower to be able to hit every school.
I think the recruiting services do help that. But it's not as important with video, especially nowadays with YouTube, the video links that kids can email you. But the literature is very good for us.
Q. Coach, I wanted to ask you about Rick Minter. Talk about flipping the dynamic from Cincinnati to Kentucky.
COACH PHILLIPS: That was one staff meeting that I asked Rick to do something. It was just say, Hey, can you do something, I want you to bring someone to my house for dinner. You work for me now. I had to let him now.
But our relationship's been great. In all the moves that I've made, whether it be from -- I definitely spoke to him when I left Cincinnati to go to Minnesota. When I left Minnesota to go to Notre Dame, the guy I talked to, one of the guys I talked to, was Rick Minter. When I left Notre Dame, which wasn't by choice, I had a couple other options, and Rick's advice was to go to South Carolina with Coach Coates, who he had worked for a couple times. When I had a chance to come back to Kentucky, Rick's advice was, Hey, you need to go, it's a great career move for you.
So I've always talked with Rick, major moves that I made. Sometimes we've talked about football. A lot of times it's about football and schemes that I might see on defense that he's familiar with. He gives me some insight in how to attack those.
Q. What are your thoughts on the proposed changes that the commissioner outlined yesterday?
COACH PHILLIPS: Well, talking about compensating players, it's great we have dialogue about paying players or compensating players. But there's a lot of factors involved. I understand that. Right now having this dialogue has now gotten us to the fact-finding phase of this thing. I think as we continue to find out the facts, come up with some answers that might fit.
Those factors, you have to understand, are not just about football, basketball, but it's about all the sports involved. It's not just about football. We got to come up with answers to those solutions also to be able to take care of everybody, not just men's basketball and football.
But I'm glad that we're having dialogue. In the end, the biggest thing is making sure that the persons that are getting taken care of that need to be taken care of, which are the players. That's what matters. Whatever we come up with, whatever solution, I'll be for it.
Q. Joker, what is your approach to monitoring comments from your players on social media? Have you made any changes or will any changes be made in light of the NCAA making direct allegations against the school because of not monitoring social media?
COACH PHILLIPS: Well, we have issues also. We tell our players that we only want you to put things on how you would interview if a camera is in front of you. Tell nothing about what's happening under this roof here.
But we do have some issues with it. We'll address those as they come up. We do have someone on staff that monitors those things, monitors everybody's Twitter and Facebook. I don't know a lot about it. I can honestly tell you that. We do have Facebook. It's been a real means of how to get in touch and communicate with prospects. But that's as far as I go.
We do have Twitter. I do tweet, I guess it's called, some. But, again, we try to tell our players that when you are tweeting, you are interviewing, that's what we're doing. That interview never goes away. We've had a couple guys that said some things on the Twitter or tweet, and we say, Y'all say, "Dear General Manager." That's one of the catchy terms that we've been talking about. That's who you're sending it to. You're not just sending it to a friend or a fan, you're sending it to everybody across the country. Some general manager is going to get what you said.
I can guarantee you, Randall Cobb didn't say anything on his tweet that some general manager says, We don't need to take this guy.
We have to continue to monitor those things and continue to educate our players on what to put on there.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, coach. COACH PHILLIPS: Thank you very much.
Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive kicked of SEC Media Days on Wednesday with an opening address that will surely make waves through not only college football, but the entire landscape of college athletics.
Addressing many of today's current issues that have plagued intercollegiate sports, Slive began his opening remarks by saying, "We don't have the luxury of acting as if it's business as usual."
To address "headlines emanating from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Gulf to the Great Lakes" that are casting a "shadow over the extraordinary achievements of student-athletes throughout the country," Slive detailed an agenda that is intended to stimulate a national discussion for change. It was fairly clear Slive was recommending wholesale changes to the NCAA.
Four primary ideas formed the basis of Slive's agenda for reform:
Redefine the benefits available to student-athletes
Strengthen academic eligibility requirements for incoming freshmen and two-year transfers
Modernize recruiting rules
Continue to support the NCAA's effort to improve the enforcement process
Slive went into detail about each of his ideas in a 25-minute speech. To prevent the risk of losing everything Slive said, I've decided to post the entire transcript of Slive's speech below.
Whether or not any of Slive's ideas will come to fruition remains to be seen, but it's pretty clear after Wednesday that Slive's proposals will be a heavy topic of conversation for quite some time.
Here is the full transcript:
COMMISSIONER SLIVE: Samuel Clemens, who wrote Mark Twain, somebody wrote his obituary before he died. In his immortal words: The rumors of my resignation' are greatly exaggerated. So you're going to have me for a bit longer.
Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. As anxious as I am to begin my 10th SEC football season on the heels of five consecutive national championships, to brag about winning seven national championships this year alone, bookended by championships in football and baseball for the third consecutive year, and to tell you about the academic successes of student-athletes like Greg McElroy and Derek Sherrod. I'm not going to do that.
As we look forward to the upcoming season, as anxious as we are and as excited as we are, we don't have the luxury of acting as if it's business as usual. And that's been made clear by the headlines emanating from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Gulf to the Great Lakes. As NCAA president Mark Emmert has observed, the events giving rise to these headlines indicate that intercollegiate athletics has lost the benefit of the doubt.
To the extent that that reality exists, it casts a shadow over the extraordinary achievements of student-athletes throughout this country, as well as over the value of intercollegiate athletic competition at a time when student-athletes are graduating at a higher rate than ever before and at a time when we are providing men and women with more opportunity to learn, to grow, and to compete than ever before.
For the past 30 years, we have seen reform efforts come and go, while the NCAA manual continues to grow in size and in complexity. Too many of our student-athletes still come to us ill-prepared academically. NCAA and conference revenues continue to increase. Coaches' compensation continues to grow. Highly publicized infractions cases have increased the level of scrutiny placed on this uniquely and wonderful American combination of athletic competition and higher education.
With that as a backdrop, and in an effort to support and follow up on some of President Mark Emmert's initiatives, we have developed an agenda that is intended to stimulate a national discussion, an agenda for change, if you will, with the hope that we will see significant action in the foreseeable future.
This agenda is not a panacea, nor is it intended to offer a solution to every problem. It does, however, identify several key issues we believe need attention, including many of the matters you have written about these past months.
Four primary areas form the basis of this agenda:
Redefine the benefits available to our student-athletes. Strengthen academic eligibility requirements for incoming freshmen and two-year transfers. Modernize the recruiting rules. Continue to support the NCAA's efforts to improve the enforcement process.
Taking each of these areas one at a time.
In the area of benefits, the issue of providing student-athletes with a full cost of attendance has been a conversation topic in recent months. "Cost of attendance" is not a term invented by conference commissioners, but it is an educationally based, commonly accepted standard that can be properly administered with each university's financial aid office.
The first step is to develop a plan to provide these additional benefits to student-athletes in an equitable manner through a redefined grant-and-aid program linked to the full cost of attendance.
We recognize that this proposal may be a financial hardship on some, yet at the same time economics cannot always be the reason to avoid doing what is in the best interests of our student-athletes.
As we review the cost of attendance, it is important to remember that we have been able to meet the needs of many student-athletes through the NCAA Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund for expenses not covered by scholarships. These include medical, travel, and emergency expenses, health insurance, clothing, and certain books and supplies not part of a scholarship.
Increasing dollars allocated to this fund and encouraging schools to fully distribute the funds to student-athletes can have an immediate and positive impact on meeting the needs of our young people.
We should also have a national discussion on establishing athletic scholarships as multi-year awards with full consideration of the implications associated with this model, including appropriate academic and behavioral conditions.
Regardless of the reasons student-athletes leave early, whether to go pro, because of academic struggles or for personal or other reasons, we want to keep the door open for those who want to come back and get their degree. We should consider extending the opportunity for student-athletes to seek a baccalaureate degree through the provision of funding beyond the current permissible six-year window for awarding athletic scholarships.
We suggest extending the provision of these scholarships to ensure that former student-athletes' access to educational resources and opportunities exist beyond the current six-year NCAA limit.
At this time last year we were dealing with swirling media reports describing improper benefits provided to a few student-athletes by some unscrupulous agents. Since that time a working group has been put together, coordinated by the NCAA. This group consists of the NFL, the NFL PA, the American Football Coaches, the NCAA, Attorneys General, agents, and a couple of us from conference offices.
Progress has been made in identifying issues and some possible solutions to those issues. But the current NFL, NFL PA Collective Bargaining discussions have slowed us down. We look forward to resuming very important dialogue once those issues are resolved.
Our goal is to give student-athletes who aspire to become professionals the opportunity to receive expert advice they need on a timely basis. They should not need to seek advice from those who do not have their best interests at heart. It is important that we in the membership refocus our efforts on developing, in a regulatory approach, that permits agents to better assist student-athletes in a timely way with their aspirations as they make the transition to the pro ranks, at the same time maintaining the prohibition on the provision of material benefits.
That was item one.
Two. One of the most important discussion areas in this agenda is to advance new ways of evaluating freshmen academic eligibility and to support proposed revisions to the two-year college transfer model.
To help high school seniors meet established NCAA academic eligibility standards, we should consider alternative strategies for determining whether freshmen can play in their first year or not. The existing approach of conducting a review of their credentials only at the end of high school is not always effective. A suggested approach is to include a full analysis of a prospects' academic performance throughout his or her high school career to give us a better picture and more complete picture of the individual's preparation for college work.
Three components of this proposed strategy are, first, consider increasing the minimum GPA required for first-year athletic competition from a 2.0 to a 2.5 in the 16 required core courses. Second, consider establishing an annual satisfactory progress rule at the high school level. This would require prospective student-athletes to take and pass a required number of core courses in each of his or her four years of high school in order to participate in athletic competition during the first year of college enrollment.
In short, we envision a system that would prescribe the number of core courses each student-athlete must successfully complete each year of high school. This would avoid the last-minute effort of high school seniors when they finally realize what they need to do to become eligible to try to cram together too many core courses.
Third, and this is important, this new model, if adopted, could result in the return of the partial qualifier category for certain enrolling freshmen. Specifically prospects who meet the current academic standards for initial eligibility, but who fail to meet the proposed new standards I just outlined, would be permitted to enroll, receive aid, engage in limited practice during their freshman year, but they would not be permitted to compete until an academically successful year in residence was fulfilled at the institution.
While we look at these initial eligibility concepts, we are following the work of the Division I academics cabinet, and they're redefining the academic requirements concerning the eligibility of two-year transfers in an effort to increase the expectations of their academic performance, and we certainly support that effort.
Recruiting. It's time to push the reset button on the regulatory approach to recruiting in order to move away from the idea that recruiting rules are designed to create a level playing field. There are significant differences between institutions and resources, climate, tradition, history, stadiums, and fan interest, among many other things that make the idea of a level playing field an illusion.
Rules governing text messaging and phone calls won't alter that fact. In early June, the SEC provided input on this issue when we forwarded correspondence to the NCAA to initiate discussion on some of these suggested changes. The result of the current legislative approach is to criminalize essentially harmless behavior which draws attention and resources away from the kind of behavior we seek to deter.
We suggest change in three areas: First, permit the effective use of personal electronic communication between prospects and institutional staff members to include phone calls, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter and other social media avenues, as well as other communication means yet to be developed.
Second, rather than continuing a recruiting calendar with differing rules for off-campus recruiting activity, contact days, evaluation days, let's simply establish days in which it's permissible for coaches to engage in off-campus recruiting. If a coach is permitted to travel off campus to recruit, he or she should be allowed to evaluate and have a conversation with the prospect on the same day. Maybe we can make the so-called 'bump' history.
The only variance from this simplified approach is to retain the prohibition throughout the day of a prospect's athletic contest.
Third, we should encourage the adoption of rules to ensure that the recruitment of prospects is conducted within the secondary educational environment in the academy while promoting the direct interaction between our coaches, prospects and their families.
We seek to hold the historic approach to recruiting through the scholastic setting rather than through third parties and so-called 'handlers.' For this reason, the SEC has submitted national legislation prohibiting institutions from hosting, sponsoring, or conducting non-scholastic football events at any location on or off campus.
One of the NCAA's most challenging and important roles, as you all know, is enforcing its rules and regulations that have been approved by the membership. Included in this suggested agenda for change is a clear statement in support of President Emmert and Vice President of Enforcement Julie Roe Lach to restructure the NCAA enforcement process in order to effectively focus resources on cases of core importance in a timely fashion.
At the same time it's our obligation as members to provide direction to enforcement in the form of legislation that can be clearly understood and enforced. Our goal is to work closely with President Emmert to initiate a comprehensive reform effort intended to produce a greatly streamlined NCAA manual that governs only enforceable issues, again, of core importance that goes to the heart of what we do.
A lot has been said over the last several years about the risk-and-reward approach to recruiting. That's focused on the definition of violations as either major or secondary. Any behavior that results in a violation is always a problem and always a concern. But we have become increasingly aware that these two limited definitions may not adequately distinguish the actions associated with the violation.
President Emmert and his staff are evaluating these labels with the goal of ensuring that an intentional violation is addressed in an appropriate category with appropriate sanctions.
You've heard about the upcoming retreat, Presidential Retreat, in August. Four SEC presidents: Mark Keenum, Mississippi State, Harris Pastides, South Carolina, Michael Adams, Georgia, and Bernie Machen, Florida, will participate from our league in next month's retreat. I hope that we can consider this retreat, that's initiated by Dr. Emmett, as a call to action. We anticipate the ideas outlined today will be combined with the thoughts of others to establish what might be called "The National Agenda For Change."
In the context of addressing problems and solutions and change, it's essential to keep some perspective here. The vast majority of our institutions, coaches and student-athletes do the right thing most if not all of the time. The good that intercollegiate athletic competition brings to higher education far outweighs the problems.
How to make the point. Maybe the best way to make the point is to talk about the real brag bag, not the one I usually talk about, and that's people, the people who make up the world of intercollegiate athletics. These people include SEC student-athletes, coaches and administrators, who this past year celebrated the life of Mississippi State's football student-athlete Nick Bell after he lost his brief but courageous battle with cancer;
Who developed programs to help those less fortunate than themselves like Vanderbilt student-athlete John Stokes, who led a student group to Belize to build Jacob's Farm, the country's first alcohol rehabilitation center;
Who honored a competitor recovering from a tragic accident when Florida's baseball team joined Georgia's team to surround Georgia baseball player Johnathan Taylor, who had been tragically injured, and running onto the field and surrounding him and celebrating him as his story of injury and courage was told on the big board;
Who saved the life of Al Schmidt, Mississippi State's Director of Track and Field when he collapsed at the SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championship;
Who led by example of our head coaches who, in addition to the support they provide their personal foundations, support causes like Boys' and Girls' Club, Special Olympics, Habitat for Humanity, the USO and others.
Each gives of his time and talent to meet the needs of others as Georgia's Mark Richt has done during his three visits to impoverished villages in Honduras;
Who devoted time, energy and resources to come to the aid of victims of the tornadoes that devastates Tuscaloosa and surrounding areas, as well as communities in Mississippi; Who donated half a million dollars to help University of Alabama students, faculty, and staff to begin the recovery from the effects of the tornado. Perspective.
I want to close with a story, a story I told at the SEC's awards dinner early in June.
The event was the shot put competition at this year's SEC indoor track and field championships. Louis Day, a Carolina shot putter learned as a result of his performance in the preliminaries had qualified for the ninth and the final spot in the shot put finals. Both the coach and Day believed there must have been an error because of the distance awarded on the throw was well beyond any throw he made all year.
The coach went to the meet's head official to report the error. He was advised no one had lodged a protest. Without the protest, the throw would stand, depriving Caleb Whitener, a shot putter from Georgia, his opportunity to compete in the finals.
The coach and Day decided the right thing to do was to file a protest themselves, reporting that Day had reached the finals without merit. After considering the protest, the head meet official expanded the finals field to include 10 instead of nine. Interesting enough Whitener finished ninth and Day 10th. When asked why, the coach said, and I quote,' I just thought it was the right thing to do from the get-go. I never really thought about it. As coaches, we always try to stress to the student-athlete that the only accomplishments that are really worth anything are the ones that you've worked for and that you can stand behind what you did.'
The coach of South Carolina assistant track coach Mike Sergent whose honesty, integrity and sportsmanship serves as an inspiration to us all, and as an example for all our student-athletes and coaches to follow. Perspective.
University of Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley spoke to the heart of our commitment to intercollegiate athletics during the invocation he gave at this year's SEC awards dinner.
I quote: "The young men and women we honor tonight epitomize what we all hope to achieve in our lives, to positively impact young men and young women, and no matter what criticism is leveled at this profession, our desire and our success in impacting so many young lives makes our mission noble and gives what we do so much value." Perspective.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention. As I say every year, once again, may the muse be with you.
He leaves Wednesday for a two-year church mission to Santiago, Chile.
Reber, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said the decision to go on the mission was not easy. He lost sleep over it, and lost even more sleep after initially deciding not to go.
"It's going to be tough -- it's already tough -- but I wouldn't be doing this if it weren't the best thing for me," he said.
Although I did not know what was in store, I was eager and ready to learn. After the first few days of training with the Commercial Operations department, I came to understand that there was a lot more involved with ESPN than production and what is seen on television.
I then began to realize that I was learning about the behind the scenes jobs many people did not know existed.
After arriving on the ESPN campus for Rookie Camp, I completely fell in love with the culture of the company.
The University of Kentucky rising junior shot a 72 Sunday to finish 2 under par and win the Men's City Golf Championship at Kearney Hill Links, joining his older brother, 2008 winner Cale Barr, in the record books.
"I just hope I can win it next year so maybe I can have one up on him," Joseph Barr joked. "But seriously, my brother has been very supportive. He always roots for me harder than anybody. It's an honor to be up there with him and have our family name up there."
Kentucky's young defense took its share of lumps last season, but the top 11 tacklers return, including All-SEC linebacker Danny Trevathan, who led the league in stops with 144. The Wildcats also will have a new look defensively, as co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter used the spring to implement a multiple scheme that will replace theprevious 4-3 alignment.
The Cats were still trying to catch on to the new system in the spring, but Phillips believes his squad should be improved defensively once the players pick it up.
"Rick (Minter) threw a lot at them this spring," Phillips said. "But we believe that the changes will put certain guys in position to make big plays for us defensively, and that's the one thing we've been lacking.
As the season progressed in Houston, Patrick's liftoff became more apparent. His work ethic turned into playing time.
"Whenever the coach sees you're the first one in and the last one out -- that'll leave a lasting impression," Patterson said. "So that's what I try to do. Work hard every single day and provide the most energy. Just do whatever I could to prove to the coaches I'm here to stay and I want to play."
He finished the season averaging almost seven points per game and even started some for the Rockets. At this level of basketball, you work to get better, or you sit and watch.
Meeks is majoring in Marketing at the University of Kentucky, and has just 12 hours remaining until he can graduate.
"I've taken classes the past few summers," Meeks said. "I just want to finish up. Even without the lockout, I still would have been taking classes. When I was making my decision to leave school after my junior year, I had a talk with my parents and they told me that they wanted me to go back and finish. They had a lot of influence, but I wanted to do it as well. I'm so close, I figured why not? I've been in all of this hard work over three years, I might as well finish up."
Cousins made the NBA All Rookie First team this past season with Sacramento.
"I love Kentucky and most importantly the people of Kentucky," Cousins said.
"I've wanted to do a basketball camp in Kentucky this summer and teaming up with the Stallions made sense. I look forward to reuniting with all the Kentucky fans and having a lot of fun with the kids that will attending my skills camp."
On Big Blue Night at the tennis tournament, Harrellson was the main attraction in the celebrity doubles match, which also featured UK women's basketball coach Matt Mitchell and men's basketball assistant coach Orlando Antigua.
Harrellson showed up and immediately garnered attention for his outfit, which included a Knicks hat worn backwards, a Knicks T-shirt, knee-high black socks and his signature jean shorts.
"I suck at tennis, so I at least have to look goofy," he said.
Tweets of the week After news broke Tuesday night of Jon Hood's torn ACL, UK players, coaches and fans took to Twitter to offer support to the junior guard in the face of his injury. Here are some of the more notable tweets from Tuesday evening.
"This is a tough blow 4 both Jon & our team. Veteran leadership on a young team is irreplaceable but Jon will use this 2 come back stronger." - @UKCoachCalipari
"Thanks everyone for the thoughts and prayers, This is an obstacle that I will overcome. We have the best trainer and doctors in the nation. I love my team and can not wait to get back out there with them! Thanks again for everything #bbn #recoverystartsnow" @hoodyhood4 (Jon Hood)
Video of the week
This is a video that former Wildcat star Rex Chapman posted on his Twitter on Sunday. It's an old clip from the Eddie Sutton show and it features Chapman along with his teammate and former UK assistant coach Reggie Hanson. It's funny for a number of reasons, but I particularly enjoyed seeing a younger Dave Baker and Rob Bromley on the broadcast.
Jon Hood averaged 4.8 minutes in 33 games last year as a sophomore. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
News broke Tuesday night that Kentucky men's basketball junior Jon Hood suffered a torn right anterior ligament playing in a pick-up game on Monday. Hood will undergo surgery once the inflammation subsides, but there is no current timetable on his return.
Now the questions becomes, is it possible Hood could return this season? Sure. Is it likely? Probably not.
As modern medicine and rehabilitation have improved, the time it takes to recover from knee injuries has considerably shrunk. Having said that, a torn ACL still takes -- at the very least -- about six months to recover from and usually more.
If Hood were to have surgery in the next week and make a miraculous recovery in six months, that would put a possible return of somewhere around late January or early February. And again, that's a best-case scenario.
For perspective, UK Hoops guard Amber Smith suffered a torn ACL last year around this time (her torn ACL was announced Aug. 11). She vowed to return before season's end to rejoin senior teammates Victoria Dunlap and Amber Smith on another postseason run, but Smith ultimately had to abandon those plans when it became clear in late January that her knee wasn't 100 percent yet.
Football wide receiver Gene McCaskill also tore his ACL in mid-August last year and missed the entire 2010 season, including spring practice.
And even if Hood were ready to go in February, is it worth him wasting a year of eligibility for just a couple of months? At that point, head coach John Calipari will have settled on a rotation, and for a guy who has seen limited action the past two seasons, it's tough to imagine him coming back from injury and cracking a star-studded lineup.
The most likely option for Hood is a medical redshirt. That means Hood would sit out this upcoming season and have two years of eligibility left, starting with the 2012-13 season. Hood nor UK have gotten that far yet.
What's the injury mean for UK's national championship hopes this year? It doesn't do too much to diminish them. UK will still have Darius Miller, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb, in addition to the nation's No. 1 signing class.
But if there's one thing we learned about Josh Harrellson's transformation a year ago, it's that veteran leadership and development are very important. UK will be without the benefit of both from Hood this season.
"This is a tough blow 4 both Jon & our team," Calipari said on Twitter. "Veteran leadership on a young team is irreplaceable but john will use this 2 come back stronger."
The news is certainly a tough blow for Hood, who played in 33 games last season in Kentucky's Final Four run, but the injury could be a blessing in disguise in the long run. Another year in the program could improve Hood's game and chances at playing down the road.
"Thanks everyone for the thoughts and prayers," Hood said Thursday night via Twitter. "This is an obstacle I will overcome. We have the best trainers and doctors in the nation. I love my team and can not wait to get back out with them! Thanks again for everything."
Some Kentucky football fans were left scratching their heads on Monday when redshirt freshman Ronnie Shields tweeted out to his followers that he had just found out he had been switched from tight end to safety. Rest assured, UK fans, the 6-foot-5, 239-pound tight end isn't switching sides, much less positions (if he were to, safety would probably be the last position group he'd go to). I spoke with Tony Neely, UK's sports information director for football, on Tuesday and he confirmed that Shields is not moving anywhere. For what it's worth, Shields tweeted Tuesday that his account had been hacked.
To the right is a picture of UK's newest fact book for the 2011 season. While the cover certainly has the look of a media guide/yearbook, it is, in fact, just a fact book. What's the difference? The fact book is strictly intended for media use only and will not be on sale to fans.
If you're wondering how to get your preseason UK football fix without a media guide, we still have those as well in the form of the 2011 Official Kentucky Football Yearbook, which you can purchase here. Those 128-page yearbooks cost $10 and are available at your local Kentucky Kroger, Fan Outfitters and other select retail locations.
Southeastern Conference Media Days kicks off Wednesday from the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala.
First up in the three-day media extravaganza is Florida, Arkansas, South Carolina and Mississippi State on Wednesday, followed by Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee and Auburn on Thursday, and Vanderbilt, Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU on Friday.
Head coach Joker Phillips, linebacker Danny Trevathan, quarterback Morgan Newton and offensive lineman Stuart Hines will represent Kentucky on Thursday morning, which you can view a live video stream of by clicking here. If you're set on watching each person to see what they have to say about the upcoming season, Newton is scheduled to go at 9:50 a.m., Hines at 10:40 a.m., Trevathan at 10:50 a.m. and Phillips at 11 a.m. (all times are eastern).
While I won't be making the trip this year (a member of UK Sports Video is going in my place to shoot a behind-the-scenes video for the website), I will have a story or two from UK's session on the blog at some point. We'll also have a couple of Twitter updates from the action from the @UKAthleticsNews handle.
If that's not enough for you, the SEC will have extensive coverage for you on its website, including the aforementioned live video stream, a live chat and Facebook giveaways. You can learn more about those in the links below or by viewing the SEC Media Days homepage.
SEC's coverage of Media Days:
Live Video Stream - Every coach and every player will be
shown live on camera when they take the microphone in Hoover.
Live Audio - The SEC mobile and tablet apps will feature
live audio of each coach and player throughout the week of events.
Live Chat - SEC Insider Eric SanInocencio will be chatting
live each day with fans - send your questions as he will be asking fan
questions of the players and coaches in attendance from inside the event.
Archived Video - Get video highlights of each day, and
re-watch each coach and player as they preview the 2011 season.
Below is the second excerpt of the series Eric Lindsey and I are doing for CoachCal.com. As Eric mentioned last week, we are profiling the Kentucky men's basketball team's five newcomers in an exclusive series for CoachCal.com. Because it's an exclusive, we can only post a portion of the story below. You'll have to head over to CoachCal.com to read the full story.
Anthony Davis has every reason to look ahead.
Without playing a game at the college level, Davis has already drawn comparisons to NBA stars like Kevin Garnett and Marcus Camby for his athleticism, defensive prowess and diverse skillset.
Professional scouts are already drooling over him and wondering what kind of player he can become at the next level. Even though many of the NCAA's top players opted to pass on the 2011 NBA Draft and return to school, Davis sits atop many mock drafts as the projected No. 1 overall pick in 2012.
Davis, though, isn't going to get caught peeking. The Chicago, Ill., native is wholly focused on his upcoming freshman season at Kentucky where he will play alongside the top-ranked incoming class in the nation and a group of returners that figures to give John Calipari an excellent chance to take his second consecutive team to the Final Four.
"The (NBA) is a whole season away, multiple seasons away if anything," Davis said in an exclusive interview with CoachCal.com. "I'm not really worried about that. In a college season, anything can happen. I might be ready to leave and I might not. There's a whole college season and I'm just focused on winning a national championship for Coach Cal and bringing Big Blue Nation number eight. That's the only thing I'm focused on right now."
That focus on the present comes partially from Davis' unique rise as the top prospect. Davis' story, by now, is well known. As a high school junior, he was a guard trying to earn a college scholarship wherever he could find it. It was then that Davis shot up, in terms of both his height and his ranking as a prospect.
By the end of his junior year, he had grown over half a foot, but he held on to the skills he developed as a guard. Davis didn't grow anymore over the summer, but he showcased his talents (and his newfound height) on the AAU circuit and accepted UK's scholarship offer before his senior year began.
While many top prospects have looked at basketball as a career for years, that concept is a novel one to Davis. He is less than two years removed from trying to scrape for a way to pay for his college education. Not a day goes by that Davis does not remember that.
"I think about that every day," Davis said. "It was God's gift to give me height and give me talent, especially coming out of nowhere. I was 6-2, 6-3 last year and shot up to 6-10. I give all thanks to God and I think it's a sign that He wants me to do great things. I think about that every day."
UPDATE: Women's basketball head coach Matthew Mitchell will be the fourth UK celebrity featured in the doubles match.
Three Kentucky men's basketball figures, current and past, are turning in their basketball sneakers for a pair of tennis shoes.
On Tuesday at the 2011 Fifth Third Bank Tennis Championship, UK assistant Orlando Antigua, former player Josh Harrellson, former All-American Kyle Macy and a player to be named later will square off in a celebrity doubles match at 7 p.m. at the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex.
The celebrity match is part of a the weeklong Lexington Challenger being held at the Boone Complex and will be held on one of the center courts.
As for the real tennis going on this weeked in the tournament, UK men's tennis seniors Eric Quigley and Alex Musialek, along with 2011 senior and team captain Brad Cox, are participating in this week's singles and double main draw as wild-card invitations.
Safety Matt Lentz totaled 46 tackles and two interceptions in two years with the UK football team before a string of concussions cut his football career short. Now, Lentz has earned a short as a baseball player with the Cincinnati Reds. (UK Athletics)
Matt Lentz thought his athletic career was over a little more than a year ago when he made the heart-wrenching decision to give up his football career at Kentucky because of a string of concussions.
"It was easily the toughest decision I've had to make in my life just because I love competing, I love playing for UK and I loved all my teammates," Lentz said. "It was tough because I came here to play for five years and experience everything. I felt like I was progressing and getting better and I was hoping to help this university and this team out."
Lentz, 22, has been awarded a second chance at an athletic career, but not in football. Reviving an old love, Lentz will resurrect his athletic career with the Cincinnati Reds organization.
Yes, you read that right. Lentz, almost cold turkey, is moving from a retired football player and current Kentucky video assistant to a member of the Cincinnati Reds.
"I feel like everything happens for a reason," said Lentz, who signed a rookie-league contract with the Reds on Friday in Goodyear, Ariz., home of Cincinnati's spring training facility. "One door closes and another one opens. This might be the next door that's opening up for me."
How that second chance opened was, well, with a little bit of chance, a touch of fate and a whole lot of natural ability.
About a month ago, the former safety decided to play toss and hit some baseballs with one of his friends. A former all-state center fielder in high school, Lentz was picking up his glove and bat for the first time since he was a junior in high school in 2006.
But what started out as an early summer hobby quickly turned into a rejuvenation of passion. After a couple of weeks, Lentz's buddy noticed the Simpsonville, S.C., native still had plenty of talent in him, so he decided to look up some playing possibilities for Lentz and discovered that the Reds were having an open tryout in Cleveland, Ohio.
Carefree, Lentz said what the heck and said he'd attend.
For the next two weeks, Lentz turned a three-days-a-week leisurely pursuit into an everyday crash course. All the while, Lentz didn't think much of his chances. Major-league scouts look at hundreds of players at tryouts and camps like the one Lentz attended last week, but most of the time, as expected, it's a wild-goose chase. Almost never do the teams actually sign a player.
"It's very rare," said Brad Meador, the Reds' scouting supervisor for the Ohio, Michigan and Indiana area. "We have two part-time guys in Cincinnati that have been with the Reds for years, and one of the guys said, 'Brad, I've only called and recommended that somebody come work a guy out a couple of times.' It is extremely rare for a guy to show up and be in Arizona a week later in a Reds uniform."
With about 150 players in attendance, Lentz and the major-league hopefuls ran the 60-yard dash, made throws from the outfield and fielded groundballs in the infield. Having seen all they needed after just three drills, the Reds sent 100 players packing, but Lentz wasn't one of them.
"In the beginning I thought I was going to do it more for fun and just to say I tried," Lentz said. "The more drills they put me through and the more I saw I was doing pretty well at it, I started thinking, 'Hey, they might give me a call.' "
The Reds gave Lentz more than a call. They gave him a private workout.
After making it into that final group of about 50 players, Lentz continued to stand out in batting practice and live pitching. Lentz isn't sure if he was the only one selected that day, but he's fairly certain he's the only one that earned another look.
"As far as I'm concerned, they were really only talking to me afterwards," Lentz said.
To make sure what they saw wasn't a one-day fluke, the Reds arranged a private workout with Lentz and two new scouts at the University of Cincinnati on Monday. Lentz took batting practice again, was timed running to first and then shagged some balls in the outfield.
By the end of the personal workout, the scouts had confirmed what they were told last week: Lentz was special and worthy of a minor-league contract.
"He has baseball tools that you're looking for -- a lot of athleticism, a big strong body and he's physical," said Meador, who was at the private workout in Cincinnati. "With him not playing the last four years while playing football, his baseball skills are what he needs to work on. He needs to get a lot of at-bats in a short period of time, but just being the athlete that he is, he's intriguing. He's got a pure stroke. Just the way he handled a wood bat was impressive."
After passing a physical Thursday, Lentz is supposed to immediately begin playing in a rookie league in Goodyear. Meador said it's the best opportunity for Lentz to receive playing time, reps and instruction, which is exactly what Lentz needs. In many ways, he is still clearing out the cobwebs from a five-year absence from the game.
"I was really surprised," Lentz said of making the organization. "I knew that I always had a pretty good arm, so I thought I would do pretty well throwing, but getting my swing back and actually seeing a ball from a hand, that takes time to get your timing down, you eye-hand coordination down and your rhythm."
The odds are no doubt stacked against Lentz. To make it to the big-league level, he'll have to endure a long climb through the minor-league system.
But to sign Lentz as an outfielder out of an open tryout sheds some light on the type of talent the Reds think he can be. For perspective, Lentz will play alongside Cincinnati's 2011 second-round draft pick.
"Obviously there is a risk in signing a guy who hasn't played in a few years, but the reward is that he has the physical tools that you can't teach with that God-given talent and body that he has," Meador said. "He can hit the ball a long ways, he's a plus-runner and he has plenty of arm to play the outfield. Everything that you look for from a scout's perspective he has."
And to think Lentz went from playing football a year and a half ago, to breaking down film as a UK football student assistant a month ago, to signing a minor-league deal with an MLB team on Friday after an extended absence from the game is pretty remarkable.
"Honestly, it hasn't really hit me yet," Lentz said. "One day I'm calling my dad saying, 'Hey, I'm going to go to this tryout,' and the next day I'm calling him saying, 'Hey, they want to sign me.' It happened in less than a week. It happened really fast."
For now, Lentz is just trying to focus on improving his footwork in the outfield and taking better angles on fly balls, techniques that should come back to him over time and through repetition.
Though his football career didn't pan out the way he imagined it, Lentz said he's used it to his advantage. Lentz has always had speed and a pretty good bat -- he estimates he hit close to .450 his junior year of high school -- but football and UK's strength and conditioning program have helped him pack on 35 pounds of muscle.
"Football made me a better baseball player," said Lentz, who now stands at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds.
Lentz was a two-way star coming of out Greenville High School and contemplated playing baseball at Clemson, but he said his relationship with then-offensive coordinator and current head coach Joker Phillips made football an easy choice.
"It wasn't too bad of a decision just because I had developed such a good relationship with Coach Phillips, who was recruiting me at the time," said Lentz, who missed his senior year of baseball with a hand injury. "I just felt that the University of Kentucky was where I was supposed to be to play football. At the time, I was a football player."
Phillips told Lentz he could play both sports at Kentucky, and Lentz certainly thought about joining Gary Henderson and the UK baseball team, but his priority at the time was football.
Adding to the difficult decision to play one sport was a change in positions. Lentz signed with UK as a quarterback, but he was forced to switch to Kentucky's secondary because of a lingering thumb injury from high school. Changing playbooks twice in one year was more than enough for him.
"I just wanted to give it my best chance on the football field, so I wanted to focus on one sport," Lentz said.
Before the concussions ended his career, Lentz was on his way to a promising collegiate football career. He made 24 tackles and recorded an interception in 13 games and five starts in his redshirt freshman year, prior to a sophomore campaign that featured 22 tackles and one interception in 12 games.
After earning a reputation as one of the team's most reliable and hardest-hitting tacklers, Lentz was receiving a trial at strongside linebacker in the spring of 2010 before suffering what he said was his third or fourth concussion, dating back to high school.
Although the concussions ended his football career, Lentz said he's experienced no long-term side effects and doesn't anticipate the concussions affecting his baseball career.
"I'm not really concerned about that," said Lentz, who graduated from UK with a degree in business administration. "The concussions I had, it's not like they were freak accidents. A couple of them were on the kickoff or punt team where I'm sprinting down the field 70 yards and then have to make a tackle full speed. Baseball, there can still be collisions, but it's not going to be in the back of my mind like it would have been in football."
Because of his childhood proximity to Atlanta, Lentz said he grew up a Braves fan. As of late, though, as if it was by a string of fate, Lentz said he's turned into a Reds fan because of his engagement to Cincinnati native Taylor Meinking.
"My fiancée's family has lived in Cincinnati their whole lives, so they're huge Reds fans and I know they're real excited about my chances of getting to play," Lentz said.
In what has surely been the greatest week of his young life, Lentz's engagement began Friday.
Over the next few weeks, Guy Ramsey and I will be profiling Kentucky men's basketball's five newcomers, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Anthony Davis, Kyle Wiltjer, Marquis Teague and Ryan Harrow, in a CoachCal.com exclusive series. Because it's an exclusive to CoachCal.com, I won't be able to post the story on here, but we will put an excerpt below of each feature. Head over to CoachCal.com to read the full story.
For as long as Michael Gilchrist has played basketball, he's looked to the stands to play for the people he loves the most.
He's played for his mother, Cindy Richardson. He's balled for his cousin DeAnte, now 11 years old. He's laid it on the line for the two father figures in his life, his stepfather, Vincent Richardson, and his uncle Darrin Kidd. And even though his late father, Michael Gilchrist Sr., never saw his son grow up and pick up a basketball, every once in a while Michael looks to the stands and sees him too.
Michael plays for everyone but himself. That's why it came as no surprise to the people that know him the most when he legally changed his name last week to "Michael Kidd-Gilchrist" in honor of his uncle, his best friend and his confidant, Darrin, who died tragically of a heart attack on the same day Michael signed his national letter of intent with the University of Kentucky.
"He put the ball in my hands," Michael said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with CoachCal.com. "He introduced me to the game. I didn't really have a dad. That was him."
Michael lost his birth father a month before turning 3. He doesn't remember a lot about the man he was named after, but he's been told he mirrors him in almost every single way. From his contagious smile, to the No. 31 adorning his jersey throughout his youth, to his unselfish play on the court, Michael is the spitting image of the Camden, N.J., basketball legend.
"Michael's style of play is so much like his father's," Cindy said. "His father really had a true love for the game."
More than three months have passed since Kentucky's Final Four run. If UK is to make history and return to the promise land in nine months, the march will begin with the 2011-12 nonconference schedule, which was unveiled for the first time Thursday.
There are countless factors that go into a Final Four run, such as team chemistry, a will to win and sheer talent, but there is also a formula for getting there. To carve the best possible path to New Orleans, there's a method of calculated teams and numbers that goes into it.
As much as a coach would like to go out and play every national title contender in November and December, he must take into account his team's youth and its mental makeup. Suffer too many losses before the league slate and you may be too far behind -- or too psychologically defeated -- to catch up. Schedule too many cupcakes and your team won't be ready, mentally or physically, to take on the big boys in March.
It's a delicate balance UK men's basketball head coach John Calipari took into consideration when trying to mold this year's nonconference schedule. The way he sees it, he wants to form a slate of games that will bolster his team's RPI, give his players the best chance to win and help his program obtain a favorable NCAA Tournament seed.
Calipari believes -- much the way he did last year when he formed the nation's 11th-toughest nonconference schedule, according to CollegeRPI.com -- he's done that again.
This year's schedule features the likes of North Carolina and Kansas, the nation's second- and third-winningest schools in NCAA history, along with rising programs like St. John's, Penn State and Old Dominion. There's a five-game home stand in December, the annual clash with archrival Louisville, and a tough three-game stretch against Portland, St. John's and North Carolina.
UK will play a total of 15 nonconference games this season out of a possible 16 teams from 11 different leagues (UK will play Old Dominion or South Florida on Dec. 20 based on previous Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament results in Uncasville, Conn.). Six of those squads were in the NCAA Tournament a year ago, including two Elite Eight teams.
Six teams finished last year in the RPI's top 100 while the overall RPI of each nonconference team is 148. Kentucky's nonconference opponents went 284-245 in 2010-11, a .537 winning percentage.
What you will notice with the team-by-team breakdown below is that, with every program that struggled last year, just about every one of them is expected to return experience and the bulk of its scoring. Generally speaking, that should forecast for improvement.
All of this is in addition to a 16-game Southeastern Conference schedule, which will be released at a later time.
Without further ado, Cat Scratches is proud to unveil this year's nonconference schedule breakdown, fit with last season's records, RPI, returning stars, and everything you need to know as a Wildcat fan for each and every game.
* - Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Lexington # - Champions Classic in New York ^ - Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Conn. % - UK will play Old Dominion OR South Florida based on previous Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament results ! - Big East/SEC Challenge 1 - Annual game in Freedom Hall in Louisville
*Marist (Nov. 11 - Lexington)
Head coach: Chuck Martin (fourth season) Record/Conference finish: 6-27 (3-15 in MAAC/t-ninth) Final RPI: 305 Final AP ranking: Not ranked Postseason: N/A Key returnees: Sam Prescott (11.4 ppg), R.J. Hall (9.2 ppg), Candon Rusin (7.8 ppg, 47 3-pointers), Dorvell Carter (7.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg) Key losses: None Series record: First meeting Last meeting: N/A
The skinny: Marist's current situation epitomizes what a rebuilding project is all about. While six total wins is nothing to write home about, it was progress from its one-win season the year before. Head coach Chuck Martin clearly has a steep climb on his hands, but he'll at least have a lot of experience back in 2011-12. Marist will lose just one player, Korey Bauer, who averaged 3.5 points last year, while returning its top 10 leading scorers. Kentucky's season opener in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament will lack star power, but Marist's guard-heavy lineup could be a good tune-up before the marquee matchup with Kansas.
#Kansas (Nov. 15 - New York)
Head coach: Bill Self (ninth season) Record/Conference finish: 35-3 (14-2 in Big 12/first) Final RPI: 1 Final AP ranking: 2 Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight Key returnees: Tyshawn Taylor (9.3 ppg, 4.6 apg), Thomas Robinson (7.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg) Key losses: Marcus Morris (17.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Markieff Morris (13.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg), Tyrel Reed (9.7 ppg, 72 3-pointers), Josh Selby (7.9 ppg), Brady Morningstar (7.1 ppg, 3.3 apg) Series record: UK leads 19-6 Last meeting: Kansas won 88-76 in the 2007 NCAA Tournament
The skinny: This is the matchup that just about everyone has marked on their calendars. One of two games in the inaugural Champions Classic in Madison Square Garden in New York, two of the winningest programs and certainly two of the most recently successful programs in the country will face off in one of the season's best matchups. Kansas won its seventh straight Big 12 regular-season title last year and has made the NCAA Tournament 22 consecutive years, the longest streak in the nation. If it wasn't for the Cinderella story of VCU, the Jayhawks would have been in the Final Four last year and been a favorite to cut down the nets. But for all the history and tradition this game will have, it will ironically lack experience. You already know about Kentucky's youth next season, but what you might not know is Kansas will be without five of its top seven scorers from last year's 35-3 team. Even for Bill Self, a master of reloading, that's a pretty big blow. The biggest hole to fill will come on the frontline, where Kansas must figure out how to replace the Morris twins. Returners Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson will need to take on bigger roles as Kansas' anchors, and Ben McLemore and Naadir Tharpe, top-100 recruits in the Rivals 2011 signing class, will be expected to contribute right away. Experience or not, this one should be a lot of fun.
^Penn State (Nov. 19 - Uncasville, Conn.)
Head coach: Patrick Chambers (first season) Record/Conference finish: 19-15 (9-9 in Big 10/t-fourth) Final RPI: 48 Final AP ranking: Not ranked Postseason: NCAA second round Key returnees: Tim Frazier (6.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg) Key losses: Talor Battle (20.2 ppg, 106 3-pointers, 4.4 rpg), Jeff Brooks (13.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg), David Jackson (9.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg) Series record: UK leads 2-1 Last meeting: Penn State won 73-68 in 2001
The skinny: Penn State finally broke through last year. After coming so close for so many years, the Nittany Lions made their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2001. The problem facing Penn State this year is that it came with a different head coach, the most prolific scorer in school history and a senior class that transformed the program. Penn State has none of those this year. Patrick Chambers takes over as head coach after leading Boston to its first NCAA Tournament since 2002. Chambers' first task is to figure out how to replace Talor Battle, who finished his career with 2,213 points, the 10th-highest total in Big 10 history. He doesn't have a lot of veterans to bridge the gaps as Penn State's second-, third- and fifth-leading scorers are also out of eligibility. Guard Tim Frazier increased his scoring load during the second half of the year and will be leaned on a lot this year to fill Battle's shoes. The matchup in Uncasville, Conn., is the second game of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament.
%Old Dominion (Nov. 20 - Uncasville, Conn.)
Head coach: Blaine Taylor (11th season) Record/Conference finish: 27-7 (14-4 in CAA/second) Final RPI: 23 Final AP ranking: Not ranked Postseason: NCAA second round Key returnees: Kent Bazemore (12.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.2 spg) Key losses: Frank Hassell (15.1 ppg, 9.4 rpg), Ben Finney (9.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Darius James (7.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg) Series record: UK leads 1-0 Last meeting: UK won 88-69 in 1992
The skinny: If there is one thing VCU and Butler taught us last season, it's that the gap between mid-major programs and the big boys is getting smaller by the day. What does Old Dominion have in common with them? Old Dominion actually finished higher than VCU in the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season standings, and Butler, the eventual national runner-up, just barely edged Old Dominion in the second round of the NCAA Tournament thanks to a buzzer beater. Had Old Dominion hung on to beat Butler, who knows, maybe the Monarchs could have danced their way to the title game. Old Dominion will lose a lot of offensive firepower, most notably leading scorer Frank Hassell, but if Kentucky advances to play the Monarchs in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament, the Cats will face one of the best defensive teams they'll see all year. Top returning scorer Kent Bazemore was last year's CAA Defensive Player of the Year. Head coach Blaine Taylor also knows how to reload, leading the program to the postseason seven straight years.
%South Florida (Nov. 20 - Uncasville, Conn.)
Head coach: Stan Heath (fifth season) Record/Conference finish: 10-23 (3-15 in Big East/15th) Final RPI: 159 Final AP ranking: Not ranked Postseason: N/A Key returnees: Augustus Gilchrist (13.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg), Jawanza Poland (9.1 ppg), Hugh Robertson (8.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg) Key losses: Jarrid Famous (8.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Anthony Crater (4.6 apg) Series record: First meeting Last meeting: N/A
The skinny: South Florida received some good news when forward Augustus Gilchrist decided to return for his senior season. Gilchrist, a pro prospect, can move bodies down low and has showed an ability to make jump shots. Whether he can get South Florida back on track remains to be seen. After making waves in the Big East in 2009-10, South Florida struggled in the rugged Big East last season. The Bulls' biggest problem? Putting the ball in the basket. But should UK draw South Florida in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-off Tournament, Kentucky could have its hands full. South Florida possesses a lot of athleticism, has a great coach in Stan Heath, and while the Bulls took their fair share of losses in the league last year, they were actually in just about every game, losing 15 of their games by 10 points or less.
Radford (Nov. 23 - Lexington)
Head coach: Mike Jones (first season) Record/Conference finish: 5-24 (2-16 in Big South/10th) Final RPI: 334 Final AP ranking: Not ranked Postseason: N/A Key returnees: Jareal Smith (9.4 ppg, 2.0 apg), Blake Smith (8.9 ppg), Gorkez Sonmen (8.5 ppg), Tolga Cerrah (8.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg) Key losses: None Series record: First meeting Last meeting: N/A
The skinny: Say what you will about Radford's 5-24 record a year ago, but the returnees are a bunch of tough kids. They suffered some humbling defeats a year ago while dealing with the loss of four 1,000-point scorers, and they lost their head coach about a month ago. Mike Jones was recently hired as the new coach after serving as Shaka Smart's right-hand man during VCU's Final Four run. Radford won't scare anyone, but if you're a believer of rallying around adversity, maybe this team can do it. After all, just about everyone from one of the NCAA's youngest teams returns, including leading scorer Jareal Smith. Radford has some size with 7-foot-1 center Martins Abele, who played at nationally recognized Oak Hill Academy.
Portland (Nov. 26 - Lexington)
Head coach: Eric Reveno (sixth season) Record/Conference finish: 20-12 (7-7 in West Coast/fifth) Final RPI: 103 Final AP ranking: Not ranked Postseason: CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament Key returnees: Nemanja Mitrovic (13.5 ppg, 93 3-pointers), Tim Douglas (7.7 ppg, 3.0 apg) Key losses: Jared Stohl (14.1 ppg, 91 3-pointers), Luke Sikma (12.9 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.6 apg), Kramer Knutson (6.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.5 bpg) Series record: UK leads 2-0 Last meeting: UK won 79-48 in 2010
The skinny: Kentucky's 31-point rout last season in Portland, Ore., was more indicative of the team UK turned out to be than what Portland truly was. Recently speaking, Portland is nearing the level of programs like Gonzaga and St. Mary's, and the Pilots appeared ready to compete for the West Coast title midway through the year until they hit a plateau in mid-January. Portland will bid adieu to three starters, including all-conference forward Luke Sikma and leading scorer Jared Stohl, but if the Pilots can go 20-12 after losing four starters the year before, chances are they can rebound from these losses. Returner Nemanja Mitrovic can fill it up from behind the 3-point line. As a matter of fact, Mitrovic ranked sixth in the country in 3-point percentage (.463) last season. As UK fans know all too well, the 3-point shot can be the great equalizer, and it seems like sharpshooters have had big nights in Rupp Arena lately. Portland will have quite a few holes to fill in the paint.
!St. John's (Dec. 1 - Lexington)
Head coach: Steve Lavin (second season) Record/Conference finish: 21-12 (12-6 in Big East/t-third) Final RPI: 28 Final AP ranking: 18 Postseason: NCAA second round Key returnees: None Key losses: Dwight Hardy (18.3 ppg, 62 3-pointers), Justin Brownlee (12.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg), D.J. Kennedy (10.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg) Series record: UK leads 10-5 Last meeting: St John's won 62-61 in 2001
The skinny: Was there a more exciting team to watch last year than St. John's? Between the buzzer beaters, shocking upsets and the addition of former UCLA coach Steve Lavin, it became clear midway through last year that one of the all-time great programs is on its way back. In the talent-rich city of New York, Madison Square Garden is once again buzzing about the Red Storm. With a recruiting class that ranks No. 3, according to Rivals, chances are last year wasn't a one-hit wonder. Headlining Lavin's star-studded freshman class is center Norvel Pelle and shooting guard D'Angelo Henderson, ranked 23rd and 40th overall, respectively, in addition to four four-star forwards. There's just one problem: They'll be counted on early and often to pick up where last year's team left off. After returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002, electrifying seniors D.J. Kennedy and Dwight Hardy are gone. So is Justin Brownlee. And Paris Horne. And Justin Burrell. And five more seniors. That's an entire team. The good news for St. John's is Lavin is an energetic coach who has restored the fire in a tradition-rich program and runs a system that can cause havoc for other teams.
North Carolina (Dec. 3 - Lexington)
Head coach: Roy Williams (ninth season) Record/Conference finish: 29-8 (14-2 in ACC/first) Final RPI: 7 Final AP ranking: 7 Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight Key returnees: Harrison Barnes (15.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 67 3-pointers), Tyler Zeller (15.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg,), John Henson (11.7 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 3.2 bpg), Dexter Strickland (7.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg), Leslie McDonald (7.0 ppg, 51 3-pointers), Kendall Marshall (6.2 ppg, 6.2 apg) Key losses: None Series record: UNC leads 22-12 Last meeting: UK won 76-69 in the 2011 NCAA Tournament
The skinny: Oh, boy, this will be huge. It will only be December and these teams have seen quite a bit of each other since 2001, but this matchup should have the feeling of a national championship game when you consider last year's Elite Eight matchup, the players returning, the expectations and the preseason rankings. Heading into the season, just about everyone's national title favorites are North Carolina, 1, and Kentucky, 1A. Really, when you look at both rosters with who is coming back and who is being added, you can't go wrong with either. For the Tar Heels, the list of impact players coming back seems like it never ends, but a lot of next year's success will depend on the four-headed monster of Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Kendall Marshall. Zeller is one of the country's premier post players, Henson can rebound and block shots, Marshall was the nation's ninth-best assist man last year, and Barnes, well, he can do just about everything. As equally surprising as the decisions of Terrence Jones and Ohio State's Jared Sullinger to return for another year, Barnes returns to Chapel Hill, N.C., with unfinished business on his mind. While both these teams will be very familiar with each other after last year's two matchups, UNC will add power forward James Michael McAdoo (No. 8 overall in Rivals' 2011 class) and small forward P.J. Hairston (No. 13 overall). Of course, UK will have the nation's top freshman class.
Indiana (Dec. 10 - Bloomington, Ind.)
Head coach: Tom Crean (fourth season) Record/Conference finish: 12-20 (3-15 in Big Ten/11th) Final RPI: 192 Final AP ranking: Not ranked Postseason: N/A Key returnees: Christian Watford (16.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Verdell Jones III (12.5 ppg), Jordan Hulls (11.0 ppg, 55 3-pointers), Maurice Creek (8.3 ppg) Key losses: None Series record: UK leads 31-23 Last meeting: UK won 81-62 in 2010
The skinny: Indiana has increased its win total in each of Tom Crean's three seasons at IU, but the time to return to the postseason is now for Tom Crean and the Indiana basketball program. In year four of the reclamation project at one of the nation's top programs, people are expecting results, and Crean may finally have the pieces to put the puzzle together. There are a lot of reasons for optimism in Bloomington, Ind. For one, the Hoosiers return just about everyone from last year's team, including the top seven scorers. It's also the first time IU has had four-year seniors in its program since the 2007-08 campaign. Forward Christian Watford can score in bunches and should get plenty of help down low in five-star signee Cody Zeller. A 6-foot-11 center, Zeller is being locally touted as the savior of the program. While that may turn out to be true, the key to this year's team may actually be Maurice Creek. As a freshman, Creek was a dynamic scorer until he was sidelined with a knee injury. Creek had a hard time regaining his form as a sophomore, and once he started to, he went down with another knee injury. Can he bounce back from two injuries and find his scoring roots? Will Zeller be as good as advertised? If IU can positively answer both of those questions, the Hoosiers should find their way back to the postseason after a rare drought.
Chattanooga (Dec. 17 - Lexington)
Head coach: John Shulman (eighth season) Record/Conference finish: 16-16 (12-6 in Southern/t-first in North) Final RPI: 200 Final AP ranking: Not ranked Postseason: N/A Key returnees: Omar Wattad (14.3 ppg, 88 3-pointers), Ricky Taylor (13.0 ppg), Keegan Bell (9.7 ppg, 62 3-pointers), Chris Early (9.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg) Key losses: DeAntre Jefferson (8.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) Series record: UK leads 11-0 Last meeting: UK won 79-63 in 2007
The skinny: Chattanooga will mark the first of five straight home games, the longest home stand of the season. Before UK plays Chattanooga, you'll likely hear John Calipari rave about Chattanooga, how the Mocs can play with anyone and how they shouldn't be taken lightly. For the most part, he'll be right. Chattanooga competes for the Southern Conference championship on a regular basis and tied for the North Division title last year. The Mocs, however, wanted more. Chattanooga started the conference slate 7-0 but finished 12-6 and lost in the second round of the league tournament. With proven potential and its top four scorers returning, this could be a dangerous game for UK, especially because it comes after three tough matchups against St. Johns, North Carolina and Indiana. Keep an eye on returning scorers Omar Wattad and Keegan Bell, neither of whom is afraid to shoot it from the outside. The duo combined for 150 treys last year.
Samford (Dec. 20 - Lexington)
Head coach: Jimmy Tillette (14th season) Record/Conference finish: 12-19 (4-14 in Southern/sixth in North) Final RPI: 284 Final AP ranking: Not ranked Postseason: N/A Key returnees: Jeffrey Merritt (10.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Gregg Wooten (7.6 ppg) Key losses: Josh Bedwell (8.3 ppg, 51 3-pointers), Josh Davis (7.5 ppg, 45 3-pointers) Series record: First meeting Last meeting: N/A
The skinny: UK will play its second straight Big South opponent just before Christmas and should cruise into the holidays on a winning note if it can simply score. Why that simple? Samford is a very low-scoring team with just one double-digit scorer, Jeffrey Merritt, on last year's roster. Merritt will return, but Samford will lose its two glue guys in the backcourt. If you're looking for possible reasons for concern from a Kentucky perspective, Samford should have a healthy Levi Barnes, a 6-foot-10 center who was named the best high school rebounder and shot blocker in the state of Georgia two years ago. Also, Samford runs a Princeton-style offense, so while the Bulldogs don't score a ton, they can be efficient and cut the game in half.
Loyola (Md.) (Dec. 22 - Lexington)
Head coach: Jimmy Paston (eighth season) Record/Conference finish: 15-15 (10-8 in MAAC/fifth) Final RPI: 181 Final AP ranking: Not ranked Postseason: N/A Key returnees: Shane Walker (11.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.7 bpg), Erik Etherly (10.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Justin Drummond 9.8 ppg, Robert Olson (9.1 ppg, 45 3-pointers), J'hared Hall (8.8 ppg), Dylon Cormier (8.1 ppg) Key losses: Jamal Barney (10.3 ppg), Brian Rudolph (6.5 ppg, 4.4 apg) Series record: First meeting Last meeting: N/A
The skinny: What's the scariest thing about balance? Any number of guys are capable of putting up big numbers on a given night. That's what Loyola has with five of six players returning who averaged 8.8 points or more last year. The Greyhounds don't seem to do anything great, but they do seem to do a lot of things well. Loyola will miss guard Brian Rudolph, who is out of eligibility, but the core of what was a young team a year ago returns. This is another team that won't scare anybody, but Loyola will be no pushover.
Lamar (Dec. 28 - Lexington)
Head coach: Pat Knight (first season) Record/Conference finish: 13-17 (7-9 in Southland/fifth in East) Final RPI: 290 Final AP ranking: Not ranked Postseason: N/A Key returnees: Mike James (12.5 ppg), Anthony Miles (11.9 ppg, 3.9 apg), Devon Lamb (9.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg), Brandon Davis 8.2 ppg, 55 3-pointers) Key losses: Kendrick Haris (10.3 ppg) Series record: UK leads 2-0 Last meeting: UK won 103-61 in 2008
The skinny: Two things you should about Lamar as a Kentucky basketball fan: One, Pat Knight, after three-plus seasons as head coach at Texas Tech, is in his first year with Lamar. If you've paid any attention to what his father, coaching legend Bob Knight, has said about the UK program this offseason, that might be motivation enough to watch this game. Secondly, if you like high scorers, check out Lamar guard Mike James, whose 12.5 scoring average isn't indicative of his potential. James came off the bench last year to pour in 52 points in 28 minutes against Louisiana College. No player in Division I men's basketball scored more points in a single game in 2010-11.
Louisville (Dec. 31 - Lexington)
Head coach: Rick Pitino (11th season) Record/Conference finish: 25-10 (12-6 in Big East/t-third) Final RPI: 17 Final AP ranking: 14 Postseason: NCAA second round Key returnees: Kyle Kuric (10.8 ppg, 70 3-pointers), Peyton Siva (9.9 ppg, 5.2 apg), Chris Smith (9.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg) Key losses: Preston Knowles (14.6 ppg, 3.1 apg, 100 3-pointers), Terrence Jennings (9.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg) Series record: UK leads 28-14 Last meeting: UK won 78-63 in 2010
The skinny: Maybe it seems like it every year, but it certainly feels like the UK-Louisville rivalry is at an all-time high. Both programs are booming, both have high-profile head coaches and both are coming off tremendous seasons. While Louisville's didn't end the way it would have liked - the Cardinals were stunned by Morehead State in their first NCAA Tournament game - it didn't tarnish arguably Rick Pitino's best coaching job as U of L's coach. With several pieces of an overachieving team back, Pitino will welcome his best recruiting class in several years. The four-man class features a little bit of everything. Power forward Chane Behanan, a physical scorer, should fill the void Terrence Jennings left, while Wayne Blackshear is an athletic swingman who can score in bunches. Although the loss of Preston Knowles will hurt, Louisville always seems to find a knack for 3-pointer shooters and defensive-minded players. Replacing Knowles will be more about finding someone with his intangibles and leadership than his ability to make shots. Look for Peyton Siva, a point guard who can do a little bit of everything, to take the next step in his junior year.
1Arkansas-Little Rock (Jan. 3 - Louisville)
Head coach: Steve Shields (ninth season) Record/Conference finish: 19-17 (7-9 in Sun Belt/fifth in West) Final RPI: 196 Final AP ranking: Not ranked Postseason: NCAA first round Key returnees: Daylon Guy (7.6 ppg) Key losses: Solomon Bozeman (16.6 ppg, 65 3-pointers), Alex Garcia-Mendoza (8.9 ppg), Matt Mouzy (7.9 ppg) Series record: First meeting Last meeting: N/A
The skinny: Last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Arkansas Little-Rock, and for the majority of the season it was. UALR struggled to a fifth-place finish in the underrated Sun Belt with a below .500 league record before completely turning around its season late. The Trojans won four games in four days to win the Sun Belt Tournament crown and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. UALR nearly capitalized on its Cinderella run in the NCAA Tournament by forcing UNC Asheville to overtime in the first round. The Trojans ultimately lost, but the team's first NCAA Tournament berth since 1990 generated a lot of good feeling for a program that was supposed to struggle. The problem now for the Trojans is that they lose virtually every major contributor to the magical late-season run. Guard Daylon Guy, with a modest 7.6 scoring average, is the leading returner, making the 2011-12 UALR team very much a mystery.
Just a few weeks away from the start of fall camp, head coach Joker Phillips has begun making his speaking rounds in the Lexington community for the upcoming season. On Thursday, Phillips stopped by the Rotary Club Luncheon to speak. (photo by Bill Straus)
As the 2011 season approaches, UK football head coach Joker Phillips has started making his rounds and different appearances leading up to fall camp.
On Thursday, Phillips talked at the Rotary Club Luncheon. Here are some notes and quotes from Phillips with the media before the luncheon:
Like any coach would be at this time of the year, Phillips is anxious to get the season underway, but there's more excitement this season than there has been in the past because of some of the summer reports Phillips has received. "There is a lot of buzz going around our facility right now with our strength and conditioning coaches, (and) our current players talking about the players that walked in," Phillips said. "That's getting me excited about the season." Phillips said that while the program hit a bit of a plateau last year by going 6-7, it's a team on the rise this year because of the attitude of the players coming back.
As some of you may have watched in the video interviews on Wednesday with the players, there is a lot of excitement about the new "Thursday Night Lights" workouts strength and conditioning coaches Rock Oliver and Ted Lambrinides have instituted. The idea started the week of July 4 just to give the players a longer break, but the guys fell in love with it. "It wasn't like; they loved it," Phillips said. "They felt that they were a lot more alert and felt together. They have recommended to Rock and his staff and they have taken their recommendation to heed and now are starting to implement that into our program as being a "Thursday Night Lights" deal. I think you always have to listen to your players and Rock and Teddy are doing that, therefore we'll move to a Thursday night workout."
There's been a lot of talk recently about the team chemistry being stronger this year. While he didn't see anything wrong with the chemistry last year, it was the team's first year learning how Phillips and his coaching staff operates. This year, there's a better understanding of what to expect. "That's one of the things we've tried to stress as much as we possibly can is that the teams that get the best players don't always win championships," Phillips said. "Therefore, all those ratings, the No. 1 ranked team would win every year. We wouldn't have to line up. The teams that are together, teams that are disciplined, teams that are tough, teams that are physical, that's what we've been trying to preach to our players. If we stay together, if we're physical, if we're a disciplined football team, we'll win games."
Along those same lines, Phillips said there is definitely some truth to the notion that you don't know what it's like to be a head coach until you've actually done it. Phillips said there was certainly an adjustment from managing three coaches and 50 players as a coordinator to managing nine to 10 coaches, undergraduate assistants, support staff and twice as many players. "I'm a more experienced head coach after a year," Phillips said. "I've been through the wars and the battles. Truly, the thing I've learned through the years is how to say no to folks. I think that's helped me as a head coach, and a year into this business as a head coach, sending some of our assistants to sell our plans. I think our assistants understand our plan and I thought last year it was my job to get out there and sell our plan, not only to the media, not only to the fans, not only to our players, but also to our coaches. I think I'm much more experienced and comfortable with sending our coaches out there."
One of the changes Phillips will make this year is summer camp. Last year, Phillips brought the first and third teamers into practice for one session and then followed with the second and fourth teamers for another session. That will be scrapped this year in favor of a full team practice that will run a little bit longer than the individual sessions. "We'll keep the freshmen for about 15 or 20 minutes while conditioning is going on with the veterans," Phillips said. "After the veterans have conditioned, we'll allow those guys to come over and help coach some of those young guys because there are so many of the young guys that we have to get ready. We'll change around some things that we feel like we've learned from practicing last year. There will be some things during the season that we'll change also that we feel will help better prepare this team. Every year there are different ways to prepare different teams."
Asked what area of the team concerns him the most on paper, Phillips said the wide receiver position because of the lack of experience. UK loses its top two leading receivers in Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews. But Phillips does believe the position has a lot of potential and talent based on the young additions. "I'm really excited about what's walked through our door," Phillips said. "That's' the buzz around our office, our complex is about some of those young wide receivers. I say that to say this: Those young wide receivers are all truly wide receivers. They're not guys that we have to teach the position. We have to teach them plays." In the past, UK has taken players like Randall Cobb, a high school quarterback, and molded them into receivers.
There's also inexperience at the running back position, but Phillips isn't all that concerned because of the number of veterans returning to one of the league's best offensive lines. "All our guys have to do is run to daylight," Phillips said. "I'm comfortable that we have enough quality backs that are upperclassmen. I'm also excited in the young freshman backs as well."
As for the newcomers that Phillips has heard the most about, he mentioned wide receivers Daryl Collins and Demarco Robinson, running backs Marcus Caffey and Josh Clemons, and offensive lineman Darrian Miller.
Wherever Rick Minter has coached, whether it was at Notre Dame, Cincinnati, South Carolina or Marshall, his teams have had a penchant for forcing turnovers and negative-yardage plays. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
The following feature appears in the 2011 Official Kentucky Football Yearbook. To read all the content inside the 128-page yearbook, you can purchase it online here or find one at your local Kentucky Kroger, Fan Outfitters and other select retail locations. The yearbook is $10.
When Rick Minter sits down to talk defense with you, he sits down to teach you.
He closes the door, stacks a few papers and turns his full attention to you. What's supposed to be a crash course into a new, cutting edge defensive philosophy turns into an old school, no-nonsense one-hour classroom.
If time allowed -- specifically, if it was after hours when everyone else leaves Minter at the Nutter Training Facility to burn the midnight oil and live the game -- he'd talk more and perhaps diagram a few plays. But there is only so much time you have with Minter before he goes back to crafting his defense.
So you sit back and pay close attention. Minter, weathered by time and 12 previous college coaching stops, looks like a man nearing the end of his football life. His words, however, have never sounded stronger and his passion is as evident as it was in the 1990s when he, as the head coach at Cincinnati, guided an irrelevant and broken-down program to its first bowl appearance in 47 seasons.
"I'm like a professor with the way I coach football, maybe too much so," Minter confesses. "But I believe knowledge is power and knowledge is confidence. Assuming all other things are equal, the smarter team has the best chance of winning."
Minter's fever for the game was one of the main reasons head coach Joker Phillips decided to go after Minter following the 2010 season.
Despite some local perceptions, the defense under Steve Brown has been pretty good. In his four years as the lone defensive coordinator, UK's total yardage allowed improved from 118th in the nation in 2006 (the year before Brown took over) to 45th last year.
But Phillips wants to take the defense even further. He doesn't just want a top 50 defense anymore; he wants a top 20.
As a former assistant coach under Minter at Cincinnati and longtime friend, Phillips kept in contact with his mentor and knew what he was capable of. When Phillips saw what Minter did last year at Indiana State as a linebackers coach and his two seasons as defensive coordinator at Marshall (2008-09), Phillips viewed the decision to split the coordinator position into two co-coordinator roles as an opportunity to take the next step and make the defense even better.
"Rick is all ball," Phillips said. "He doesn't go home at night. He stays here and does football. That's what he does."
It wasn't a hard sales pitch to lure Minter from Indiana State, but there was the delicacy of having two coordinators, the power of which would be in Minter's hands.
"I'm sure it was a little tough on Steve," Phillips said. "It's just a decision I decided to go with. One thing I wanted was more minus-yard plays and turnovers."
And that's one thing Minter certainly brings to the table. Indiana State had a 2-54 record in the previous five years before his arrival, but Minter's defensive unit, in leading the Sycamores to a 6-5 mark, led the conference in interceptions and ranked second in takeaways in 2010. In Minter's first season at Marshall, the Thundering Herd doubled its turnover rate.
"When we send our kids out on the field, the No. 1 thing we want to do is go get the ball," Minter says. "We want to be a better takeaway defense."
Schematically, what you learn about Minter's defense during the teaching session is that it's as much of a reflection of him as anything. Experienced by time and coaching stops like Notre Dame and South Carolina, among many others, Minter has taken the best of what he's learned in his 30-plus years of collegiate coaching and applied it to his multiple-look defense.
While everyone will try to pinpoint exactly what his defense will look like this fall -- is it a 3-4, a 4-3 or a 4-2-5? -- Minter will tell you its base is a hybrid and its strength is its adaptability. The way Minter sees it, it's up to the defense to adapt to the offenses and gimmicks of modern day college football. That means adjusting from week to week and snap to snap.
Take, for instance, last season. On one weekend, UK had to face the spread option attack of a team like Auburn. The next week it had to deal with the power and speed of South Carolina.
"Offenses today have such a great pizzazz and flavor to them that you must be adjustable on defense," Minter says. "You find great 'backs, you find great receivers, quick O-lines, fast-tempo teams and slow-tempo teams. All we are trying to do is put our guys in position to match up no matter what they see. We will have a plan that will be successful against any of those styles of play."
But Minter also wants to impose the same type of changes on the offenses. Instead of just adjusting, Minter wants his defense to be the aggressor. From a fan's perspective, you'll see more blitzes, more chaos and a lot more speed this fall, but there is also a lot the naked eye won't see.
Minter says they might line up to show blitz only to drop back eight in coverage. Sometimes there will be four guys with their hands in the grass. Other times there will be two linebackers and five defensive backs with three down linemen. Minter didn't even rule out the possibility of a 3-3-5.
The idea is to create confusion. Going back to Minter's initial teaching point, knowledge is power, and he wants his team to be the one that knows what's going on.
"The way you do that is put the most amount of doubt, the most amount of confusion into the opposing offense," Minter says. "If they can look over there and know exactly what we're doing, then we have no advantage. It then gets down to talent and how much you want it. But if the quarterback has an ounce of confusion in his mind, we've gained a little bit of an edge."
When Minter initially took the job in December and watched film of the pieces he would have to put together, he saw a defense capable of making the transition.
Senior Winston Guy will move from safety to a hybrid linebacker this fall as a part of Rick Minter's new defense. (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
There were a few changes that needed to be made to utilize different strengths, and Minter made those this spring. He moved safety Winston Guy closer to the line of scrimmage as a hybrid linebacker, changed cornerback Martavius Neloms to safety, and prepared linebacker Ridge Wilson to play both standing up and with his hand on the ground as a pass rusher.
Minter used the winter bowl practices at the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., to give the players an initial taste of the new defense and then went to work this spring installing the base packages. If Minter were constructing a building, this spring's installation process would be like setting the foundation.
Initially, not everyone was willing to grab a new shovel.
"When you come in and install something new, it's somewhat like marrying into a family of kids," Minter says. "They're all teenagers and they're about to leave the house. How do they adapt to the new old man around? With so many seniors on defense, it's both opportunistic for them and challenging at the same time."
Minter sold the veterans on preparing and challenging themselves for the next level. If they aspire to play in the NFL, they have to learn a new playbook anyways, Minter viewed it.
"Let's just move that up a year and put yourself to the test," Minter told his players. "Let's challenge ourselves. Let's reinvigorate ourselves. Let's get excited about doing something new and perhaps a little more aggressive in some areas and see how you respond."
The change has worked so far. While Minter spotted plenty of mistakes in the spring's Blue/White Game, he says they're on schedule with the installation process. They're playing faster, creating more turnovers and cutting down on missed tackles, not to mention players like Guy have emerged as leaders.
In explaining the new defense, you begin to realize the changes Minter is implementing are more than just schematics; they are as much about attitude and belief as they are about the base defense.
"The thing I was looking for was toughness and discipline, and that's what Rick brings," Phillips said. "We needed a guy that would coach toughness and would coach discipline. Rick was the perfect choice."
From the time Minter closed the door, turned his chair and started talking, it was clear he is a straight shooter. As old school as Vince Lombardi and Paul "Bear" Bryant, he doesn't dance around how he feels or what he thinks.
"I won't 'BS' them and I won't blow smoke," Minter says. "I'm very straightforward and very honest."
Football is his life and his life is football, so he preaches his teachings like it's the gospel.
"Some of them had a hard time with it," Phillips said in referencing the rude awakening guys like Neloms and Guy experienced when Minter was holding practices over by 20 minutes in Birmingham. "I had to make sure those guys understood that this is what we're going to do. He has my blessing and support. You can buy into it or you'll be watching on the sideline."
Minter doesn't apologize for his intensity and ferocity for the game. As he explains, he's trying to do what is in the best interest of the players and the program.
"We're living right now in some of the better years in UK football," Minter says. "It wasn't that everything was broken, but I'm trying to take the program to an even higher level. That's what everybody has to understand. While it might not have been broken, it has to be what your standard is. If you begin to be known as a 6-6 team, guess what? You'll be a 6-6 team. What's wrong with winning a championship or at least saying this is what we're going to do?"
And that's Minter's lesson plan for the day. While he can lecture football, pick apart a defense and instill his wisdom as well as any head coach, what he's trying to sell -- and what he's trying to teach -- is that Kentucky is capable of taking the next step with him.
His philosophy is playing smart football and his mode of attack is a hybrid, adaptable base, but at the end of the day, he has one goal for the Kentucky football program.
"When people start talking about the University of Kentucky from this day forward," Minter says, "the first thing I want to hear come out of their mouth is, 'My god, what a great defense they have.' "
Despite losing his best offensive playmakers off a 6-7 team and going to a new defensive coordinator, coach Joker Phillips has lofty aspirations for the Wildcats in his second full season running the program.
"I expect us to be in the title race longer than we have been," Phillips said. "We have to talk titles. I do not want to talk about going to six straight [bowls like UK could do this season]. How long can we stay in the title race? We have a chance to stay in this race for a long time.
2. Kentucky: The loss of Brandon Knight was to be expected, and the departed DeAndre Liggins was the team's glue and father figure on the court, but Terrence Jones returns with a year of seasoning and Darius Miller can fill Liggins' void. Add in a typical John Calipari recruiting class (Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist, Marquis Teague) and the Wildcats should be Final Four- worthy again.
Riddle, a graduate of Western Hills High School in Frankfort, is pitching for the Lexington Hustlers this summer in preparation for moving to the mound for UK in the future.
"I know I can help the team out a lot in the field," Riddle said Saturday after his third pitching appearance of the summer for the Hustlers. "If (UK head coach Gary Henderson) needs me to come in the late innings and be a closer type kind of guy, I can definitely do that too."
Nermin Delic, who chose to give up football three weeks ago, has decided to rejoin the University of Kentucky football team.
Delic, a 6-foot-5 defensive end who played in eight games as a true freshman last season, told his hometown newspaper, the Dalton (Ga.) Daily Citizen, that Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips has accepted him back.
Doron Lamb, Kentucky, sophomore - Lamb flew under the radar a bit in Lexington last season, when he was often overshadowed by Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight. Still, his contributions to the Wildcats' Final Four squad were immeasurable. He averaged 1.8 3-pointers per game and shot 47.8 percent from long distance. His stats should soar in 2011-12.
So instead of hitting Vegas, this year's Pistons draft picks Brandon Knight and Kyle Singler were in Maine last week participating in a basketball camp for foreigners from war-torn areas around the world.
The event is sponsored by their agent, Arn Tellem, and it allows them a chance to help out those less fortunate.
Turkish basketball federation president Turgay Demirel confirmed that his country's rising star and third overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft will join that nation's top squad.
"He has been a good player for our junior program -- for our junior national team he played very well," Demirel told the website of the 19-year-old big man. "I think in the EuroBasket he will help the team."
"When I first got there, I was trying to get my control back,'' Paxton said today. "As you probably saw, I walked a lot of people. I was really trying to focus on throwing strikes and getting ahead in the count. That's the biggest thing I've been working on."
Paxton earned a promotion to Class AA Jackson, where in his lone start so far he gave up three runs (two earned) in 4 2/3 innings while striking out just one.
"I was a little wound up and nervous for that one,'' he said. "I think my next start there will be a lot better. I was a little tight. I wasn't letting the ball loose like I can."
Cowgill earned the starting nod after putting together a dominant first half in his first season in Triple-A. The center fielder has 110 hits and 74 runs and ranks third in the league with a .363 batting average heading into tonight's series opener against the Salt Lake Bees at Aces Ballpark. Cowgill also is second in stolen bases (24), fifth in on-base percentage (.437), third in total bases (175) and is tied for fourth with six triples.
Who could forget Steve Johnson's game-winning catch against Louisville in 2007? What about Braxton Kelley's stuff on fourth-and-2 that very same year against No. 1 LSU? Will watching Tayshaun Prince's 3-point barrage against North Carolina in 2002 every get old?
Thanks to WKYT's new show, "Big Blue Encore," fans will have a chance to relive some of those classic football and basketball moments and games. Through an agreement with XOS Digital, the Southeastern Conference and WKYT, the Lexington CBS television affiliate and flagship station of the Big Blue Sports Network will begin rebroadcasting games Saturday.
Starting Saturday at 3 p.m., WKYT will re-air the 1998 UK-LSU football game in Baton Rouge, La. The instant classic featured Quentin McCord's 38-yard reverse that set up Seth Hanson's game-winning field goal.
On Sunday at noon, WKYT will replay the 2007 UK-Louisville football game at Commonwealth Stadium. That one, of course, included Johnson's aforementioned 40-yard catch from Andre' Woodson in the closing seconds, giving Kentucky its first win over a top-10 opponent in 30 years.
"Big Blue Encore" will run regularly during the football and basketball seasons, said Steve Moss, WKYT's executive sports producer and videographer. Once the seasons begins, the broadcasts will air on either WKYT or its sister station, CWKYT.
Moss said they've already picked 11 games from a master library that includes games dating back to 1956. The replays will feature the original broadcasts, meaning Sunday's showing of the UK-U of L game will be from the 2007 ESPN Classic broadcast.
Jesse Witten won SEC Player of the Year honors in 2005.
"Where are they now" is a six-part summer series that will take a look back at the careers of former Kentucky athletes and find out what they're doing post-UK. Today we will hear from Jesse Witten (2002-05), a former NCAA men's tennis singles finalist and Southeastern Conference Player of the Year.
Ever since he first picked up a racket, tennis has been a big part of Jesse Witten's life. From playing in high school and grade school, to becoming the only five-time All-American in Kentucky tennis history, to a professional career that began in 2005, Witten has never stopped loving the game.
Witten, now 29, rewrote the record book while at UK. He was the school's first-ever Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and advanced to the NCAA singles final in 2005. Success has followed at the professional level, where Witten has qualified for multiple major tournaments, including the 2009 U.S. Open. Witten advanced to the third round, eventually falling to current world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
However, since realizing that an ascent to the top 20 in the world and therefore automatic qualification for events on the ATP Tour was not in the cards, Witten has consistently pondered what the future holds for him.
"It's always looming, to stop playing and do some other things," Witten said. "It's just a matter of time before I go that route."
Two years ago, before Witten qualified and made his run in that U.S. Open, imminent retirement was a very real possibility. The constant grind of traveling away from his home in Naples, Fla., had him wondering what was next. It was then that a couple wins and a hard-fought match against a world-class player re-energized him.
"It kept me going, it kept me going for the next two years," Witten said of his U.S. Open run in 2009. "It made it exciting again to have the opportunity because I didn't know if it was ever going to happen again."
What Witten had accomplished was his dream. For a player who has spent most of his time in the 100s and 200s of the ATP's rankings, qualifying for a tournament like the U.S. Open is a rare opportunity.
"It's what you play for," Witten said. "All of the players where I am, that's what they play for, to make that big tournament and make a big run. It just doesn't happen every day for us. We have a limited number of big tournaments where it can happen and it's really what we all play for. It was obviously exciting and it really fired me back up."
Although Witten had made that dream run, he still faced the daunting task of having to qualify for each future major. Witten, now ranked 290th in the world, has never fully abandoned thoughts of life after a professional career.
Between the travel and the long hours training, professional tennis is a lonely endeavor. Beginning last year, Witten had someone else to think about.
"This year it has gotten a little bit slower," Witten said. "I've kind of taken it easy and not played as many tournaments on the road because I got engaged in December. My fiancee moved down to Florida and I've tried to be home a little bit more than normal instead of being on the road 35 weeks a year."
With his marriage coming up in March of 2012, Witten is set to settle down and a playing career is incompatible with that. Ironically, the relationship that will play a role in ending his career began as a result of it: Witten met his future wife while playing at a tennis tournament.
His playing days may just be numbered, but that doesn't mean Witten will turn his back on the game. His first move toward making a future for himself has been work toward getting a tennis academy restarted in Naples that Witten attended as a teenager and that he credits with propelling him to his college and professional career.
With the success of his playing career, his marriage and his academy to consider, Witten is wary of spreading himself too thin. He will attempt to qualify for the upcoming U.S. Open, but he says that the end of the summer could spell the end of his playing days.
"Once I start this academy, I really want to put my effort into that so it's not a (half-hearted) job," Witten said. "You never know what's going to happen. I could have one big run in a tournament and all of a sudden want to play again. (But) now that I'm getting married, it might be the right time to put my time and energy into something else and just be able to be home.
"Being on the road and in a relationship, it's a tough life, but I've enjoyed it. I wish I could keep doing it but I'm starting to come to realize I might be ready for something else."
For now, Witten will continue to play. Other than trying to qualify for the U.S. Open, he is a member of the New York Sportimesof World TeamTennis, where he plays with John McEnroe and Martina Hingis. Last weekend in a tournament in Newport Beach, Calif., he faced off against one of the top players of all-time in Pete Sampras. Only recently has he become accustomed to playing and interacting with some of his former idols.
"I'm finally getting used to a little bit, playing at the tournaments and being around them, but it's still a bit of a shock," Witten said. "I practice every year with McEnroe and we have a pretty good relationship. We keep in touch. I never thought that would happen (with) one of the icons of the sport."
McEnroe is a role model for Witten and Witten jokes that his fiery on-court personality belies his true character.
"He's a good role model, he has good passion for the game and good attitude, other than what you see on the court," Witten said. "It's a great to be around those people and to play with them."
Ever since leaving Lexington, Witten has missed the team atmosphere of college tennis, specifically at UK, and that's why playing with World TeamTennis is such a pleasure for him.
"It brings me back to the college days," Witten said. "You have a team and it's not just you. Every other day of the year it's just you out there really."
Witten may have been a star as an individual, but he took pleasure in the feeling that he was just another member of the team.
"I probably mostly miss the team the most; practicing together, playing together and living together," Witten said. "We did everything as a team and we were close as friends and we still are today. I have a couple that are coming to coming to watch me play in different cities, so we keep in touch."
Witten's run the U.S. Open a couple years ago served as an unofficial reunion with his teammates and coaches. Chants of support for Witten, including "Go Big Blue," rang out from "Witten's Wall," the term coined for his section of supporters.
"It was great," Witten said. "It shows that they really care. There are some people that jump on and pretend they're fans, but they are people that actually care about your success no matter what happens."
Dennis Emery, UK's head tennis coach, figured prominently in his cheering section. The relationship between coach and player remains an important one to this day.
"He'll do anything for me," Witten said. "Whether I'm struggling, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter how I'm doing or how I'm feeling, he's going to try to help me as if I were his own son. It's a great relationship and it obviously made the choice of going to Kentucky the right one for me as I look back on it."
As he prepares to enter his next career as a coach and instructor, Witten knows that Emery will be an invaluable resource for him. He also knows that Emery won't hesitate to do anything he can.
"He's done ITF Juniors, he's done all kinds of events and charity work, he's done all kind of clinics and kids stuff," Witten said. "He really knows how to do everything. He's a good person to know if I have a question like, 'How should I set up this event?' or 'How should I run this drill or clinic?' He's a great person to have. He's been around the game and been around the game at a high level."
Witten also takes a great deal of pleasure in the ongoing success of his former coach and alma mater, particularly in UK's recent run to the Elite Eight this past season. Witten also singles out assistant coach Cedric Kauffmann as a major factor in the program's success. Kauffmann was a three-time All-American at UK just a few years before Witten arrived in Lexington.
"I always check in on their scores," Witten said. "I talk to Coach Emery when they have their big matches. I definitely follow it and I definitely watch it and I think it's great for him to have Cedric Kauffmann there. He's a great coach and an awesome guy. He helps with recruiting those guys and keeping it rolling."
Witten takes a great deal of pride in the program, though he is modest about the important role he played in building the foundation of UK tennis. Witten points to his predecessors, like Kauffmann and Carlos Drada, for paving the way for him.
"Even before I was there, they had Carlos Drada, who got to the NCAA finals as well, so he kind of led the way before me," Witten said. "I don't if I had much to do with it when I was there, but I'm glad we did well. I enjoy winning and I wish we could have won a little more, but I think we had a pretty good four years. I don't know what kind of mark I left but I'm still glad they're doing well and it's getting better."
Witten deflects talk of the legacy he built in Lexington, preferring to focus much more on the bonds he built while he was there. As his playing career creeps toward its conclusion, Witten will always look fondly back on sharing that U.S. Open with his UK family and what their presence said about those relationships.
"(Friends come and go) but these have stuck with me," Witten said. "There have been struggles, but they're always with me. It's great that we got to share that moment at the U.S. Open where we got to come back together and have a little fun."
The Southeastern Conference has released the schedule for next week's SEC Media Days, a three-day media extravaganza that will feature the league's 12 football coaches and select players. Here is the schedule of the teams participating each day in Hoover, Ala.:
Wednesday, July 20 Arkansas Florida South Carolina Mississippi State
Thursday, July 21 Kentucky Georgia Auburn Tennessee
Friday, July 22 Alabama Vanderbilt Ole Miss LSU
Kentucky will be featured Thursday morning from 8:30 to 11:20 a.m. CT. Rest assured, there will be plenty of coverage on our website, social media, and throughout the blogosphere and Internet on the kickoff of the 2011 season. In addition to head coach Joker Phillips, offensive guard Stuart Hines, linebacker Danny Trevathan and quarterback Morgan Newton will make the trip to Hoover. Here are some stats on what they did last year:
Stuart Hines (OG, 6-4, 296, Sr., Bowling Green, Ky.) - Started 11 games at left guard after missing two games with injury
Danny Trevathan (LB, 6-1, 232, Sr., Leesburg, Fla.) - First-team AP and SEC Coaches All-SEC; led SEC in tackles with 144 stops
Morgan Newton (QB, 6-4, 235, Jr., Carmel, Ind.) - Started the BBVA Compass Bowl , completing 21-of-36 passes for 211 yards and 18 rushing yards
Here is what the article had to say about the social media superstars (since Wall and Jones did not make the top 50, there was no excerpt for their accounts):
19. John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari): Few coaches have used their celebrity
status to raise as much money for charity as John Calipari. He uses the 140-character
messages to help raise awareness and money for a variety of causes as well as
tweets words of support for his former players.
34. DeMarcus Cousins (@BoogieCousins): Pretty much from the day he became part of
the national scene in prep-basketball, everyone knew Cousins could be a bit of a
loose cannon. That mentality has carried over to Twitter where the Sacramento
forward is one of the funniest athletes on the social network.
Although it's been a relatively quiet summer in terms of news, it's been an active summer for UK Athletics facilities.
In an effort to strengthen and improve Kentucky's athletic infrastructure, several of UK's facilities are undergoing renovations or complete overhauls. The facility projects include Commonwealth Stadium, a new track facility and the UK Soccer Complex.
I decided to drive around to each facility today to snap a few pictures of the process. For those of you that aren't in Lexington, it should give you a better idea of the kind of activity going on this summer on UK's campus.
New track facility
The new UK track facility is expected to be completed by the spring 2012 season. Situated between Cliff Hagan Stadium and the old track facility, the new facility will include will include a practice area, team meeting and storage building, meet administration building, stadium seating, plaza and concourse, in addition to the track, pits and throwing lanes.
Commonwealth Stadium has been re-sodded for the upcoming 2011 season. The field will continue to use Bermuda 419 grass.
The front facing of UK's two scoreboards, located at the end of each end zone, are scheduled to be removed over the next month. Two new high definition Daktronics video boards, measuring 37 feet high by 80 feet wide, will be installed in their place. The project, which will also include LED ribbon boards and a new sound system, is expected be completed by the season opener on Sept. 10.
UK Soccer Complex
The UK Soccer Complex is getting a new playing surface for the 2011 season, which will continue to feature Bermuda grass. The field will have a new baseline irrigation system that will have motion sensors in the field, which will allow the Sports Turf department the ability to monitor soil moisture levels and reduce over-watering.
Dylan Smith, a member of UK's 18-time national championship winning cheerleading squad, recently survived a four-story drop after falling through a door while demonstrating a tumbling maneuver at a studio where he teaches, according to a report by The Call, a newspaper in Woonsocket, R.I.
Smith, who will be a sophomore on this year's upcoming squad, suffered a fractured pelvis, a dislocated hip, a ruptured spleen and punctured lungs. At the time of the story, Smith was listed in critical condition at Rhode Island Hospital, but UK cheerleading head coach Jomo Thompson told a UK media relations official Monday morning that Smith is "up and walking around" and is "doing a lot better."
According to the report, Smith told him his father that he instinctively did a back flip in midair, which enabled him to land on his feet. Smith's father believes his son's cheerleading reflexes were the reason for his survival.
"He's alive and it's basically a miracle," Hugh Smith told The Call. "He should be dead. It's a 44-foot drop."
Smith recently completed his freshman year as a pre-med student at UK.
"Dylan is a great kid with a very infectious personality," Thompson said in a statement. "Although I am not able to be there with him, we have talked and he continues to improve. I know the Big Blue nation will send their thoughts and prayers to him and his family as we all hope for a speedy recovery."
Our thoughts and prayers are with Smith as he recovers from his injuries. To read more about the fall and Smith's miraculous survival, click here.
For the first time ever, a Kentucky Wildcat will participate in the MLB's Futures Game, an exhibition of some of the pro's top prospects that takes part during All-Star weekend.
James Paxton, who pitched for UK from 2007-09, is one of two representatives for the Seattle Mariners on the U.S. roster. The Futures Game will take place Sunday at 6 p.m. ET from Chase Field in Phoenix.
Although Paxton's career at Kentucky ended in controversy, he was one of the game's top pitchers when he left Lexington. Paxton sported a 5.86 ERA with a 5-3 record in his junior season, but he had 115 strikeouts in 78.1 innings pitched. The lefty featured a fastball in the mid to upper 90s.
Paxton opted to return to school despite being a first-round pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, but he never threw a pitch for the 2010 team. Paxton left the team in February 2010 after declining to meet with the NCAA over potential eligibility issues.
Even so, Paxon has flourished in the minors after landing with the Seattle Mariners organization. He's 3-3 this year in stops at single-A and double-A ball, posting a 2.45 ERA with 81 strikeouts.
The Futures Game has featured some of the MLB's top players, including Eric Braun, Josh Beckett, Eric Bedard, Jay Bruce, Adam Dunn and more.
- One question I've gotten from a few people since posting the video boards story from earlier is what UK plans to do with the names of former players and the "C.M. Newton Field" sign, given the new ribbons boards will cover them up. I'm being told that UK plans to honor those players and the sign somewhere in Commonwealth Stadium, although an exact location hasn't been designated yet.
- As I mentioned the other day, head coach John Calipari is out recruiting in the all-important summer evaluation period. And though he's not a fan of the summer recruiting period, Calipari spoke with Brett Dawson of Cats Illustrated the other day to talk a little bit about the process. A snippet of that conversation is below, but you'll have to check out the full Q and A at Cats Illustrated.
Q: You say you like watching basketball. What are you looking for when you watch players here? Calipari: I want to see guys' competitive spirit. I want to see that they make other players better, stuff like that. I want to see how they interact with their coaches. Their level of competitiveness is the most important thing. Do they have skill? Are they longer? How long are they? For us, the way we play, it's not really a position. I don't care. We could have four of the same guys as long as they're long and they can guard a position. Shooting is - I'm OK if they shoot it or don't shoot it. Doesn't matter. I'd rather they be able to make something, but I'm more concerned with how they play.
- Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (more on that below) are both at the LeBron James Skill Academy this week. While there, Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader caught up with Davis about Kentucky's national championship expectations. Here is what he had to say:
To hear Anthony Davis, the ongoing debate about whether a freshman-oriented team can win the national championship is rehashing a settled basketball issue.
"Any team can go and win a national championship," he said Thursday at the LeBron James Skills Academy. "You've just got to work hard."
For a third straight year under Coach John Calipari, Kentucky will seek a national championship with a team largely dependent on first-year players. Davis, one of those players in 2011-12, saw inexperience as no disqualifier.
"If we work hard, we can be a national champion," he said. "It's all about work ethic."
The decision to change his name deeply touched Gilchrist's mother and Darrin Kidd's sister, Cindy Richardson.
"I just thought it was a really noble thing for him to do, something that he wanted to do for a man who was a very integral part of his life," Richardson, formerly Cindy Kidd, said in a telephone interview.
His challenge: Losing a talent like Cobb was one thing, but the Wildcats also lost Matthews. On top of it all, Kentucky will turn to junior Morgan Newton at quarterback, and this will be the first time he's gone into the season as the full-time starter. It wasn't a great spring for the Kentucky receivers, either. They dropped at least eight passes in the spring game, according to various reports. Junior La'Rod King will be counted on to step his game up, and Martin has made it clear to King that he needs him to be a leader this coming season. Sophomore Brian Adams, who doubled as a baseball player, was Kentucky's most consistent receiver this spring, but Martin and Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips want to see more consistency across the board in the way the Wildcats' receivers catch the ball. Martin will work hard to get some of the younger receivers ready, and the Wildcats are also keeping their fingers crossed that junior Gene McCaskill can come back and be a big factor in the passing game after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. The passing game as a whole was a priority this spring. Phillips was pleased with Newton's progress. Now it's on the receivers to make that same kind of progress come fall.
- And finally, fellow SEC blogger Edward Ashcoff discusses why sophomore running back Raymond Sanders will be so important to the UK football team this year in the following video.
Commonwealth Stadium's new high definition displays, located at the end of each end zone, will each measure 37 feet high by 80 feet wide. (artist rendering courtesy of Daktronics)
Two months from the start of the 2011 Kentucky football season, construction is set to get underway at Commonwealth Stadium for the installation of a new high definition video and sound system.
Removal of the two old scoreboards, located at the end of each end zone, will begin on Monday. After the removal is complete, installation of the new Daktronics HD-X scoreboard will commence in early August. The additions will also include a digital ribbon board that will surround the interior of the seating bowl, a new sound system and a high definition control room.
The structure that the old scoreboards were mounted on will stay in place at Commonwealth Stadium, with the exception of the front facing. The new light-emitting diode displays will be mounted onto the existing structure.
Commonwealth's facelift is expected to be completed in time for Kentucky's home opener against Central Michigan on Sept. 10.
"The addition of this new Daktronics system will provide our fans with an outstanding audio-visual experience, one that is among the biggest and best in all of college football," UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said. "We are pleased to be working with Daktronics on this high definition upgrade to the stadium. We believe our fans, alumni and sponsors will be excited and thrilled with what the new system brings to game day. We are looking forward to our opener on 9-10-11."
Each LED video board will measure approximately 37 feet high by 80 feet wide (2,960 square feet), making each display the 15th-largest scoreboard in the college football. Combined, the 5,920 square feet will make the new video boards one of the largest scoreboard systems in the country.
With the addition of the video and sound system, which is expected to cost close to $6 million (demolition and installation included), UK Athletics has invested more than $14 million in renovations and upgrades to football facilities at Commonwealth Stadium, Nutter Training Center and Nutter Field House over the last six years.
The most visible components of the upgrade will be the two HD Daktronics scoreboards behind each end zone. Each display will provide live and recorded video in high definition, picture in picture capability, and multiple zones to show scores, statistics and sponsor information. According to Daktronics, it would take more than 550 42-inch flat panel screens to fill the space of each new end zone LED video board.
In addition to the end zone displays, Commonwealth Stadium will receive a facility first in the form of full-color ribbon boards that will encircle the interior of the seating bowl. The 14 digital ribbon displays will include additional statistics, scoring and timing information, animation, and other motion graphics. The digital ribbon boards will total more than 1,800 linear feet, with the two longest displays measuring more than 485 feet.
Commonwealth's upgrade won't just be for the eyes. Daktronics will also install a custom sound system. The Sportsound system will deliver pounding bass energy, smooth mid- and high-range frequencies, and high-impact entertainment. Components of the sound system include a main speaker cluster behind the end zone, under-balcony speakers and concourse speakers.
The video and audio equipment will be operated with a high definition front end control system designed by Daktronics.
"We are very excited to work with the University of Kentucky on this project," Daktronics Sales Manager Will Ellerbruch said in a release. "The Wildcats play in one of college football's most prestigious conference. This upgrade will make SEC football in Lexington even more exciting."
More than 1,800 linear feet of Commonwealth Stadium's interior seating bowl will be decorated with LED ribbon boards. (artist rendering courtesy of Daktronics)
Former UK baseball star Collin Cowgill hit .298 with 16 home runs and 61 RBI during UK's 2006 SEC championship season. (UK Athletics)
"Where are they now" is a six-part summer series that will take a look back at the careers of former Kentucky athletes and find out what they're doing post-UK. Today we will catch up with Collin Cowgill, the former All-American outfielder for UK baseball
Collin Cowgill was used to success.
His collegiate career at the University of Kentucky saw him help lead his team to the 2006 Southeastern Conference championship and earn first-team All-America honors after his senior year in 2008. Even in the classroom, where he worked to become a first-team Academic All-American, Cowgill was accustomed to doing well.
A fifth-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2008, Cowgill expected to make his mark on the organization and march to the big leagues. After a solid first professional season, Cowgill was 61 games into his 2009 season when he handled a small-scale failure about as poorly as possible.
Playing High-A ball with the Visalia (Ca.) Rawhide, Cowgill struck out for the second time against the same pitcher. He responded by unleashing a blow on the dugout wall, which dislocated two bones in his hand and required two pins to be surgically inserted, ending his season with 80 games to go. Cowgill had dealt with injury before, missing his entire junior season at UK, but this time it was by his own doing. He realized that his approach to the game needed a dose of perspective.
"That definitely was a lesson I learned the hard way," Cowgill said. "I think mostly (I learned) not to take every game, every at-bat too seriously. We play 140 games in the minor leagues and we're going to get close to 600 at-bats, so one at-bat, five at-bats, 10 at-bats don't really mean anything. You can't get too caught up in one little thing that happens or even a bunch of things strung together."
Much of the reason why Cowgill had always succeeded was because of the intensity with which he approached things, but he needed to temper that intensity with a keen awareness of the big picture.
"After I got hurt in '09, I learned to enjoy the game a little bit more and not take it too serious," Cowgill said. "Obviously I take it seriously, but (I remember) that it's just one game or one at-bat."
What has followed for Cowgill in the two years after his self-inflicted injury has been the kind of rise up the organizational chain that he originally expected. He played the entire 2010 season with Double-A Mobile, posting a respectable .285 batting average to go with 16 home runs, 34 doubles and 86 RBI.
That strong campaign in 2010 landed him a spot on the Triple-A Reno Aces of the Pacific Coast League to start the 2011 season, where Cowgill has not missed a beat.
Eighty-one games into his fourth professional season, Cowgill's performance has his teammates with the Aces calling him the potential league MVP. While playing a sparkling center field, Cowgill is first in the PCL in runs (81) and second in batting average (.366), on-base percentage (.440) and steals (26). The 5-foot-9 outfielder also has 12 home runs and 57 RBI and was the leading vote-getter among players earning berths in the Triple-A All-Star game next week in Salt Lake City.
Putting up those kinds of numbers just one level down from the majors, many a player would spend his time wondering why a call-up to the big leagues has yet to come. Cowgill, now 25, is much more focused on sustaining his high level of play and enjoying where he is.
"It's a great feeling when it's going well," Cowgill said. "Obviously you want to keep that going as long as you can. This team, this league and our home field, everything's perfect. We've got a bunch of veteran guys that I can learn from that are teaching me a lot about the game. Our field is gorgeous, our fans are amazing and it's fun to come to the park every day."
If not for the situation in the outfield with the playoff-contending Arizona Diamondbacks, the call likely would have come already. Established young stars Justin Upton and Chris Young play right and center field, respectively, and are not going anywhere. In left field is 24-year old Gerardo Parra, who is having a solid season at the plate and has a strong glove.
Cowgill could almost certainly help the Diamondbacks right now as a fourth outfielder, but general manager Kevin Towers has said that the team values Cowgill so much that they want him to be able to play every day. That's a consideration that Cowgill understands and appreciates.
"It's kind of tough because you're in a spot where it could happen but you try not to think about it and you just have to play," Cowgill said. "There's nothing you can do about it. You've got some guys up there that can really, really play and I don't even know where I would fit in that outfield. I just go out and play every day and if the time comes, it will happen."
Arizona has a record of 47-41 and sits just two games behind the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants for first place in the National League West. If Cowgill does receive a call-up, he will be thrust directly into a pennant race.
Collin Cowgill, an above average defensive outfielder, is hitting .366 with 12 home runs and 57 RBI for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. (UK Athletics)
"They've got so many pieces on that team right now, I would hope I could fit and do whatever I could to win," Cowgill said. "Whatever I could do to help them win, I'd be more than happy to do it. I'm looking forward to the challenge if it does happen."
For now, Cowgill is more concerned about his current team's divisional race, though that one isn't so close. At 50-35 on the year, Reno is eight games ahead of second place Tacoma. Even if Cowgill doesn't have his best game, he still enjoys being around his team and sharing in its success.
"Even if you don't have a good game or you have a tough series, it's still a lot of fun just being there at the field with your teammates," Cowgill said. "It's been a great experience so far and I think that's been the biggest factor in making the adjustment (from Double-A to Triple-A). I'm having a lot of fun playing the game right now and I couldn't ask for much more than that."
Cowgill's current team is blistering the ball at the dish, sporting a league-leading .318 batting average and hitting 116 home runs en route to a PCL-best 622 runs. But Cowgill has been on a team with similar offensive weapons.
With Ryan Strieby, John Shelby, Sean Coughlin, Cowgill and company hitting a combined 99 home runs, the 2006 Kentucky Wildcats scored more than eight runs per game en route to the league championship. Cowgill can't help but think about his current Aces team when he remembers his sophomore college season.
"I just remember that lineup really being able to hit," Cowgill said. "That team reminds me a lot of the team I'm on now: a great group of guys. Nobody expected us to do anything on that team. I think we got picked to finish last in the SEC that year like every other year I was there. Nobody ever thought we were going to be any good."
Being a Lexington native, that season was even more special for Cowgill.
"What a fun experience to finally put Kentucky baseball somewhere in the picture of SEC baseball," Cowgill said. "Being able to bring something to the baseball program that they hadn't really seen in a while was great. It's just amazing all the people that rallied around the team. It's crazy how a little bit of success creates a little bit of excitement for the fans and what fun it was to play when we had a lot of fans there cheering us on."
Then-head coach John Cohen and then-assistant Gary Henderson were able to bring talent to Lexington and develop it in a way that had never been done before. Now, with former players like Cowgill, Strieby, Sawyer Carroll and James Paxton making progress toward getting the call-up to the big leagues, that talent is on full display. Cowgill believes that a track record of readying talent for the next level will help bring the next generation of talent to UK.
"It's awesome. The university has done so much for me, it's nice to see (the coaches) getting some recognition for what they've done, and the guys they've brought in," Cowgill said. "It's not an easy conference to win in, especially being the most northern team. They keep pumping out first rounders and second rounders and big prospects. It's awesome that those guys are having the success that they're having and I couldn't be any happier for them."
Cowgill is extremely thankful for the vital role UK had in helping him get to where he is now, but he very nearly didn't even got the opportunity to suit up for the Wildcats. He had grown up attending games in Cliff Hagan Stadium and had always envisioned playing there for the Big Blue when he was old enough. However, he was faced with the harsh reality of being told that might not be good enough to do it as a junior in high school.
"I remember when Coach Cohen told me, 'I don't know if you're going to be able to play here,'" Cowgill said. "I kind of got mad because somebody was telling me I couldn't do something or I wasn't good enough."
Cowgill used that anger as fuel.
"I dedicated myself to proving him wrong and I used it as motivation to be a better baseball player and to do some of the things that I knew I could do but I hadn't shown," Cowgill said. "It finally came together there at the end of my senior year. When Coach Cohen challenged me to be a better player, it did motivate me throughout that whole year."
Cowgill ended up receiving Mr. Baseball honors as a senior and earned that spot at UK after all. Under the tutelage of Cohen and Henderson, he continued to improve at Kentucky.
Henderson didn't take over as head coach until the year after Cowgill became a professional, but the two formed an uncommonly strong bond.
"I love Coach Henderson," Cowgill said. "He actually came out to a game here in Reno. He was recruiting a kid in Sacramento, I think, and just jumped over a night and we sat outside at the field for at least an hour and just talked about everything from baseball to his son, Ty. He's a friend and he's been great mentor to me."
The two get to spend plenty of time together because Cowgill still calls Lexington home. In fact, Cowgill owns a house just past the outfield fence of Cliff Hagan Stadium and former teammates Antone DeJesus and Carroll are his roommates in the offseason. Although the three no longer play for him, Henderson is not finished acting as coach and mentor to them, which speaks to his character, Cowgill says.
"The way he treats us when we come back in the offseason to work out, he does everything he can to help us," Cowgill said. "He'd do anything for us and, at the same time, we try to do everything we can for them. It's a great relationship I have with them and they take great care of me, so I can't thank them enough for what they've done."
Morgan Newton threw for 211 yards in the BBVA Compass Bowl against Pittsburgh. (UK Athletics)
As ill-advised as the tweet that Morgan Newton sent out a couple of weeks ago may have been, it was done with good intentions and behind a drive of change.
That tweet, which Newton has since removed from his account, expressed his frustrations over the number of teammates not willing to work hard enough to take the next step.
"Sometimes you get frustrated and that's all that was for a minute or two," Newton said Wednesday at the Nutter Training Facility. "It probably wasn't the best way to put your frustration out there, but the guys responded, so it worked."
As it turns out, the tweet resulted from miscommunication in planning. Either way, it appears to be a signal of change with Newton since being tabbed the odds-on favorite to win the starting quarterback position next fall.
Based on observations, his teammates' approval and the praise of his coaching staff, Newton has turned over a new leaf of leadership now that Mike Hartline has graduated and Ryan Mossakowski has transferred.
The way everyone has explained it, Newton views the starting quarterback position as his job now. Unlike the previous two years when Newton was entangled in a battle, he doesn't plan on losing it.
"Morgan's a different guy," senior linebacker Ronnie Sneed said. "Before when Hartline was there, I could tell Morgan started to change. He was upset that he didn't win that starting position, but I believe that pushed him to prove a point."
And really, that's all Newton said he was doing with his tweet a couple of weeks ago. The junior from Carmel, Ind., said he was trying to motivate his teammates and stress the importance of working hard in the offseason.
His intentions were never to throw anyone under the bus.
"That's the kind of role I feel like the leaders need to take is having guys out here and making sure the guys are accountable for being here," Newton said. "The coaches can't be around and they can't do that part in the summer, so it's our job to have people around."
Coaches are not allowed to coach the players during the summer, meaning it's up to the players to organize any workouts or practices.
Adopting the same role that Hartline served, Newton has taken on the responsibility of organizing workouts and 7-on-7 scrimmages, evening calling players from Georgetown and Eastern Kentucky to give the UK players a different look.
Newton's teammates have responded.
"Everybody's responding about wanting to come out here and get better every day," Newton said. "It's a group of young guys that are really listening to the older guys and the older guys are trying to be the greatest role models they can be."
The word is they're learning from their leader.
"He's a workaholic," senior cornerback Randall Burden said of Newton. "He's working hard and more than he has in the past years. He's about to take this team on and lead it."
The offseason changes have resulted in what Sneed said is the best offseason he's had since he's been at UK.
"We're only as strong as our weakest link," Sneed said. "I believe that, in the previous years, we had guys who weren't 100 percent truly invested in this program like how they needed to be. But I can tell you that I've seen a difference. I've been around here awhile and I've seen a difference from when Coach Rock (Oliver) and Coach Joker (Phillips) have come in, as well as some of the leaders have come in, and grab those guys and been like, 'Hey, man, get it together. We need you.' "
The workouts in the summer, while not mandatory, are what separate the mediocre teams from the upper echelon, Sneed said.
"When you come to Division I football, especially in the SEC, everybody has talent, everybody has God-given ability, but it's what you do with that God-given ability," Sneed said. "The wins are going to come down to which teams work the hardest."
Sneed said South Carolina is proof that hard work pays off.
"South Carolina won the East and I would say they're a team that's sort of like us," Sneed said. "If South Carolina can do it, why can't Kentucky do it? They have the same type of players. People view them the same way as they view us. If they can do it, we can do it. It just came down to, I believe, those guys worked a little bit harder."
In working harder, the Wildcats have also adjusted their practice habits. At the advice of Oliver, the UK players are focusing more on their weightlifting this summer. Instead of running four times a week, the Cats are lifting four times and running twice.
Sneed said the change has paid off as guys are getting noticeably bigger. Personally, Sneed said he's put on about 10 pounds.
"We just felt that last year we might have gotten pushed around a little bit more than we wanted to," Sneed said. "If we want to elevate our game to that next level, we feel like we need to add more girth and strength. We feel like that will help us win more games than maybe being faster than the other team. We're going to take a different approach and see how this goes."
Speaking of different approaches, new co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter has also implemented a new wrinkle to this summer's workouts. Since he can't physically be around to deliver instruction, Minter has recorded a voiceover for the players' film sessions.
"We're allowed to watch the film we need to watch as if we were in a meeting hearing his voice," Sneed said. "That's something that we haven't done before in the past offseason and we had to go back to our notes and try to remember the things that our coach told us before. Now we can sit back as if we're in a meeting in season and learn."
The voiceover comes at perfect time in the change to a new hybrid defense. The installation process during the spring featured tons of new terminology, schemes and alignments, concepts that are easy to forget when the coaches aren't around and the temptation of summer is at your fingertips.
Being able to hear and visualize the changes in a summer that the coaching staff has called critical in the switch is a great refresher for the players.
"It worked out for the best of us," Burden said. "Since we've had this break, before we started watching the film, we were losing some of the stuff we learned in the spring. Since he's got the videos and he's talking through it, we're starting to get back with it and learn new things."
Of course, some people will tell you you're only as good as your quarterback. Newton is doing whatever he can this summer to make sure he takes Kentucky to the next step.
Part of the maturation process has been utilizing the precious resource of former quarterback Andre' Woodson, who now serves as a student assistant on the staff.
"I can't tell you how much time I've spent watching Andre' and how they were successful and watching last year and how we could have been successful," Newton said. "He's done it. He's kind of seen the NFL, he's been toward the top of the SEC and he's been at the bottom, too, so he's seen it all."
If Newton can make a similar leap to the one Woodson took after his sophomore season, it may be the first time UK has seriously flirted with a premier bowl game since Woodson was calling the plays.
"Let's win a few games and the weather may be warmer in January," Newton said. "You want to come out here and win every game you're playing, and that's the way you've got to approach these workouts and practices. We've got to come out and get better every day. Maybe we don't want to be in Tennessee or maybe we don't want to be in Birmingham again. We love the bowl games and we know the fans like bowl games, but we want to go to some better bowl games."
In the middle of the their offseason individual workouts, football players Morgan Newton, Ronnie Sneed and Randall Burden took time Wednesday to speak to some members of the media. Below is video of the interviews. For those of you that prefer the written word, we'll have a story in just a little bit.
Senior Amber Smith was relegated to the sidelines last year as she recovered from a torn ACL. (UK Athletics)
Watching Amber Smith last season, it was hard to notice anything was wrong.
That million-watt smile was still there, she was frequently in the middle of the pregame huddle at midcourt, and she was almost always at the side of her best friends Victoria Dunlap and Carly Morrow.
But when the lights were off and the doors were closed, Smith couldn't hide the pain. Rehabbing from her second major knee injury in four years, Smith was hurting a lot more than she led on.
"It was very tough," Smith said of the torn anterior cruciate ligament she suffered in her left knee last summer that sidelined her for what was supposed to be her senior season last year. "It was harder on me mentally. I had a lot of stuff running through my head. The first thing was Carly and Vic and not being able to go out with them."
Smith rehabbed with the idea of miraculously returning midway through the year to join her senior teammates, but all along she battled with a rollercoaster of emotions.
At first, having already gone through a torn ACL in her right knee her freshman year, Smith knew the type of grueling process she was about to go through. That didn't make things easy.
Then, when she saw her team struggle at the point-guard spot and fail to capitalize on the Elite Eight run in 2010, it made basketball difficult to watch.
And finally, when she returned to the court in late December/early January, she realized she couldn't cut as hard as she needed to in order to help the team. She ultimately decided to take a medical redshirt in 2010-11 and return this upcoming year as a redshirt senior.
Watching her best friends play and move on without her wasn't easy, especially when they struggled at times without her.
"I felt so helpless," Smith said. "I wanted to help the team get as far as we could, but that wasn't possible. That was very hard on me. I was very depressed because I couldn't believe what happened with the season we had (the year before). I was so ready for the next season and to get farther than the Elite Eight. That was a phase I had to get through."
Physically, the injury was a little bit easier to get through than her first torn ACL, but the mental trials of this one were much tougher because of the timing, especially in the beginning.
Although the Wildcats posted another successful season and made it to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year, UK struggled in some of its high-profile games. Those were almost unbearable for Smith to watch.
Smith sulked inward until head coach Matthew Mitchell started to ride her and made her realize that she was still an important piece to the team.
"He was on me, but I knew what he was saying was right," Smith said. "I knew he had to be honest with me. He's not a person to sugarcoat it. He's very honest. You've just got to take the criticism. Sometimes I knew I wasn't giving it my all off the court."
Specifically, Smith wasn't doing the things that made her so successful on the court. She wasn't talking on the bench and she wasn't displaying the passion that drove the Elite Eight team. For a player that aspires to be a coach, her emotions were getting in the way of a vital opportunity to learn while helping.
"I was pretty quiet in the beginning," Smith said. "I started being more vocal because I knew that's what the team needed. That's what I could give. I couldn't give anything on the court, so I had to give more off the court."
Eventually, Smith settled into her role and became another pair of eyes and vocal chords for Mitchell and his coaching staff. Smith came to grips with herself in January that she wasn't going to be able to return.
She said she probably could have played a minimal role, but with the limited number of games she had left, it wasn't worth wasting an entire year of eligibility.
"I wanted to come back and be a factor," Smith said. "I knew that I couldn't come back last year and do that."
The knee is currently about 90 percent, according to the 5-foot-6 guard from Winter Haven, Fla. She's finished with the rehab process and has been working this summer on strengthening the knee. By the season's tipoff in October, Smith says she'll be "more than 100 percent."
As a fifth-year senior, Smith returns as the unquestioned heart and soul of the team. It's a role Smith says has been five years in the making.
"I've been in this program for five years and we've been through ups and downs," Smith said. "I've seen the best and I've seen the worst, so I'm very prepared to lead this program because I know what we're capable of. I'm very ready for this role. Most players don't get to be in a program for five years. I'm blessed."
Although she would have preferred to play last season, the extra year in the program has been a blessing in disguise. The year on the sidelines has allowed the communications graduate to get a head start on her master's in sports leadership while learning more about the game of basketball.
"Since I wasn't out there, I was watching the game and learning the game," Smith said, pointing specifically to her new habits in the film room. "That's going to help me this year with the court vision. I got better with my communication skills with my teammates. I built relationships that I probably wouldn't have built if I was on the court. I was spending more time trying to help each individual. I learned a lot from this process and I think it's going to help me tremendously this year."
Smith averaged 9.2 points and 4.5 assists her junior season. Her scoring counterpart, Dunlap, is now in the WNBA, but Smith says this year's team may actually have more scoring options than the last two. The additions of Connecticut transfer Samarie Walker and freshman forward Azia Bishop should cushion the loss of Dunlap inside, and veteran stars A'dia Mathies and Keyla Snowden return on the perimeter, in addition to McDonald's All-American Bria Goss.
Smith is most excited about the addition of height. With a crop of athleticism already in place, the added size gives Kentucky its most complete team for its pressure-based system.
"When we play pickup, I just smile at some of the plays they make," Smith said. "I'm just excited to have those types of players around me, especially being a point guard. I have people around me that can score and defend."
Smith isn't shy in talking about the expectations for this year. She said last season's second-round exit was a disappointment, adding that this year's team will not be satisfied with a second-place finish in the Southeastern Conference.
With a team motto of "Right Team, Right Place, Right Now," Smith said everything this year is geared towards Denver, home of the 2012 Final Four.
"That's where we want to be," Smith said. "We're not going to sell ourselves short with just making the Sweet 16 or making the Elite Eight. We want to get to the Final Four and contend for a national championship. I think if you don't have goals, you don't know what you're working for. This summer, we know what we're working for."
It took Smith an extra year to get here, but she's back working towards another magical run.
Darius Miller will have a significant role as one of the Wildcats' few veteran leaders next season. The team will have super sophomores in forward Terrence Jones and guard Doron Lamb, as well as the top-rated class of incoming freshmen. As the team's most experienced player, the 6-foot-7 former Kentucky Mr. Basketball is ready to take on a leadership role.
"I feel comfortable with it," the senior-to-be said. "I can't wait to get the season started. I'm just going to do the best I can to get better over the summer."
TCP: What did you learn about yourself in that first season as the boss? PHILLIPS: I stretched myself way too thin with things outside of football. Rich told me on the way out that, 'Hey, you've got to learn how to say no.' But I wanted to get our message out there, what our program is about. And not only was I trying to sell the Big Blue Nation our plan, I was also trying to sell the coaches our plan. Now, they understand our plan enough that if someone calls from the Rotary Club I don't feel like I'm the one who has to do it. If someone calls from Cincinnati, Rick Minter can handle it. Steve Pardue has the Owensboro area, and he can get the message out over there because we're all speaking the same language now. Everybody is on the same page so now I can do more football.
That was the case July 2, when Washington Wizards star John Wall teamed up with the Baltimore's Finest squad to take out the Sweat Mob, 133-118, in the headliner game held at Spingarn High School in Northeast, D.C.
Wall, 20, showed off the freak athleticism that made him the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NBA draft, speeding up and down the court to score a game-high 41 points. He even showed off a long-range jumper that he's been working on this offseason, one of his weaker areas that needed improvement. A few three-pointers in the first half helped Baltimore's Finest leap out to a 74-56 lead at halftime.
"I've been working on it, so I'm getting more comfortable [shooting from range]," Wall told the AFRO. "I just have to keep working and working."
His throws are routinely cut off during fielding drills. His locker is in the middle of those belonging to the team's Spanish-speaking players. And he's a regular recipient of ribbings from his elders.
As the youngest position player on the Aces, Collin Cowgill is treated like the little brother in many ways.
Cowgill takes the jokes, gives a few back and says he couldn't ask for better teammates.
"It's because they like him," manager Brett Butler said.
Still, Harrellson fills an obvious need for the Knicks, whose toothless stable of big men last season included Ronny Turiaf and Jared Jeffries. Harrellson's chances of making the team are unclear, but the Knicks are desperate for a bruising center to reduce the load of star power forward Amar'e Stoudemire.
"He showed that he'll bang people around," D'Antoni said of Harrellson last week.
In June of 2007, Wall--a rising junior--had no scholarship offers and wasn't ranked. Relatively unknown outside of his hometown of Raleigh, NC, the 6-4 guard took an 18-hour drive to Chicago looking to make a name for himself at one of Reebok's tryouts. It was there where Wall would go from having no name to instant fame, and go from being unranked to eventually climbing to the top spot of his class and getting drafted as the top pick of the 2010 NBA Draft.
To this day, Wall continuously credits Reebok and the Headliner Try Out for granting him the opportunity to showcase his talent and get the exposure that once wasn't available to him. Following his outing in Chicago, he was invited to take part in the Reebok All-American Camp in Philadelphia. And right from the first game, Wall's landing on the national stage took place--his explosive guard play turned heads and had everyone asking, "Who's that kid?" His 28-point performance against the team that featured Brandon Jennings, who was ranked the top player in the nation at the time, set the tempo for a historic week.
Anthony Davis recently participated in the Amare Stoudemire Skills Camp and this highlight video is the evidence. In it, Davis flashes the ridiculously diverse skill set that made him the No. 1 recruit in the nation according to many outlets. He's a big man, but he can run, jump and shoot like a guard. He's also an absolute terror on the offensive glass and is a deflection machine on defense.
- In case you didn't see John Calipari's tweets Tuesday night, former UK player and current Detroit Piston Tayshaun Prince will be hosting all three days of Calipari's ProCamp from July 28-30. Also attending the camps will be Brandon Knight on July 28, DeAndre Liggins on July 29 and Josh Harrellson on July 30. The camp will run from 9 a.m. to noon for children K-6th grade and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. for campers 7-12th grade. The former UK stars currently playing in the NBA will sign autographs throughout the three-day period. Cost for all three days for either morning or afternoon session is $199. For more information, click here.
- This isn't completely athletic related, but the city of Lexington has been ranked the nation's fourth-best city for business and careers, according to Forbes.com. The list is based on 12 metrics relating to job growth (past and projected), costs (business and living), income growth, educational attainment and projected economic growth, quality of life, cultural and recreational opportunities, net migration patterns, and the number of highly ranked colleges in an area. Louisville was ranked 14th.
- Former UK basketball student manager Frank Vogel is expected to officially be named head coach of the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, removing an interim tag he has carried since January. The former Wildcat took over for Jim O'Brien in January, posting a 20-18 record while leading the Pacers to the No. 8 seed in the East.
This week unofficially marks the start of arguably the most important time in college basketball recruiting. High school kids and prospects across the nation will take to the basketball courts this month in a grueling month of elite basketball camps and AAU circuits.
During the next month, coaches will flood college basketball gyms across America to get a peek at the nation's best talent. It's an important time to evaluate, foster relationships and connections with the next generation of talent, and for the lucky few, it's a time to secure verbal commitments.
This month is just as important for high school kids as some try to add a star or two to their name and move up the major recruiting rankings. It's a pressure-packed environment filled with huge expectations and often times unfair results. Every single move and step they take will be watched, recorded and scrutinized by hundreds of college coaches, but right now it's the nature of college basketball.
In the past, head coach John Calipari has been outspoken in his disapproval with summer recruiting. He has publicly said he would prefer to do what college football coaches do and shut down the recruiting for a month. He would rather be on campus helping the kids he already has adjust to their new school, as well as give the current high school kids somewhat of a break from the year-round schedule they have to face.
But for now, that's not how things are done meaning Calipari has no choice but to be on the road doing what he does best.
Because this is part of UK's official website, we can't go into any great detail about the camps and tournaments because some of the kids could be prospective student-athletes. However, I wanted to at least give a rundown of some of the higher profile events going on.
When given a chance, Victoria Dunlap usually comes through.
In her first start of the year Sunday, Dunlap scored a career- and team-high 19 points in the Washington Mystics' 73-63 loss to the Seattle Storm. Dunlap, the Mystics' first-round draft pick this year, replaced injured Crystal Langhorne in the starting rotation.
Dunlap was 7 for 14 from the field and 5 of 7 from the free-throw line. She finished with eight rebounds and three steals in 33 minutes.
The breakthrough game was a welcomed sight for Dunlap, who entered the game averaging 1.8 points and 1.8 rebounds in 8.7 minutes per game.
"I thought I played pretty well with the start, especially under the circumstances," Dunlap told the Washington Times. "We don't want any (more) injuries on our team, but I think it was a good step for me to step up as a person and as a player to help out the team the best that I can.
"It feels great when the coach shows confidence in you. Not many rookies get to start and play as many minutes as I did, so I'm definitely grateful for that. I just hope I can continue to help the team any way I can."
Tony Delk, UK's assistant director of basketball operations and one of the stars of the 1996 Kentucky national championship team, has been hired as an assistant coach at New Mexico State.
The former NBA player will join Marvin Menzies' staff after two years at UK.
"Congratulations to Tony Delk, who will now have the opportunity to be an assistant coach at New Mexico State," UK head coach John Calipari said in a statement. "There's no doubt in my mind that Tony will be a great basketball coach and I couldn't be happier for him. Part of what we want to continue to do is give former players from our family the opportunity to jumpstart their careers. I'm so thankful that Tony was with us our first two years at Kentucky. His background as a UK graduate, national title winner and NBA veteran provided a valuable resource for our program. My job as a head coach is to help all of our family, including players, staff and assistant coaches, to reach their dreams. You want everyone in this program to benefit from its success. It makes me proud to see guys like Tony Delk, Scott Padgett, Martin Newton, David Scott and Jason Walberg move up the ladder in their careers."
According to a tweet, John Wall has taken up John Calipari's offer to work out at the Joe Craft Center during the NBA lockout and will be in Lexington this summer. (UK Athletics)
While the NBA locks out its players in a labor dispute, Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari is opening his doors.
Come one, come all, Calipari said in a Facebook and Twitter post Friday. Elaborating on a general invitation he's touched on recently, Calipari said he's invited all UK alumni in the NBA back to Lexington to work out during the work stoppage.
"I reached out to every former Wildcat that's in (the) NBA and having to deal with this lockout to make sure they knew the Joe Craft Center is available to train if needed," Calipari wrote on his Facebook wall. "If they want to finish up some school work while in Lexington, we will help with that as well. We just want to make sure all our players know that it's all about family here at UK."
It seems one very notable player has already taken Calipari up on the offer as last year's No. 1 overall pick and former Kentucky All-American John Wall has indicated on Twitter that he'll be back in Lexington.
"Can't wait to go back to Kentucky this summer!!!" Wall tweeted.
Seventeen UK alumni are currently with NBA teams, including four players -- Enes Kanter, Brandon Knight, Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins -- who were selected in this year's NBA Draft.
If some of the players take advantage of the invitation, one can only imagine the quality of pickup games that will be going on at the Craft Center this summer.
UK football has moved to first-come, first-serve student seating for the upcoming season at Commonwealth Stadium. (UK Athletics)
In an effort to enhance the game-day experience, promote school spirit and allow students to choose where they sit, Kentucky has implemented changes to the student sections at Commonwealth Stadium for the upcoming season.
Beginning this fall, the entire lower level student area and a majority of the upper level student area will be converted to general admission, first-come, first-serve seating.
In essence, instead of basing seating priority on preseason sales, UK will allow students to determine their seat on the day of the game. The earlier students arrive at Commonwealth Stadium, the better chance they'll have at getting the best seats.
The change in student seating will mirror most major Southeastern Conference schools.
Even though seating arrangements will be determined on a game-to-game basis, students are encouraged to purchase their tickets starting July 18. Tickets will be on sale from then until the ticket allotment has been sold out.
On game day, students with general admission tickets will be able to choose between lower level and upper level seats. Students entering the lower level (sections 104-107) will be provided with a wristband. Once all wristbands have been distributed and the lower level is full, students will automatically be directed to the upper level student sections.
A limited number of reserved seats will be held for students who do not wish to participate in the general admission seating areas. Those reserved seats will be located in the far corner of the upper level student area (section 200) or other corners of the stadium, based on demand. An online group seating process will occur in early August for students who wish to purchase a reserved seat. Season ticket pickup will begin Aug. 22.
Mitch Barnhart's 15 by 15 by 15 Plan calls for the athletic department to win at least 15 conference, tournament or national championships and rank among the NCAA's top 15 athletics programs by 2015. (UK Athletics)
Boosted by a rifle national championship, a men's basketball Final Four run, a national quarterfinals berth by the men's tennis team and the school's first Super Regional appearance in softball, UK finished in the top 40 for the fourth consecutive year. Kentucky was eighth among Southeastern Conference schools.
The Directors' Cup was developed as a joint effort between the National Association of Collegiate Director of Athletics and USA Today to rate the top athletic departments in the country. Kentucky uses the rankings as a measurement for its 15 by 15 by 15 Plan, a department-wide mandate to win at least 15 conference, tournament or national championships and rank among the NCAA's top 15 athletic programs by 2015.
Kentucky appears to be on pace in its quest for 15 championships after capturing three more during the winter semester, one for rifle's national championship, one for rifle's Great American Rifle Conference regular-season crown and one for the men's basketball team's SEC Tournament title. In total, UK has seven championships (four rifle titles and three men's basketball crowns).
UK was ranked 98th in the Directors' Cup standings at the conclusion of the fall semester of sports with 50.0 total points. The department picked up 339.50 points in the winter and 196.00 in the spring for a grand total of 585.50 points, the third-highest point total in school history.
Stanford, by comparison, finished with 1,550.25 points in claiming its 17th straight Directors' Cup. Schools like Stanford have a built-in advantage over schools like Kentucky because of the number of varsity sports the department competes in. For example, UK does not compete in fencing, women's ice hockey, skiing and men's wrestling in the winter.
UK finished 29th last year, the third-highest finish in school history and best since the 1997-98 athletics season, when the school was awarded the full allotment of points in men's basketball for winning the national championship.
In the mold of the Directors' Cup, the Capital One Cup was recently created with the same objective but different parameters.
By definition, the Capital One Cup is awarded annually to each of the top men's and women's Division I college athletics programs in the country. Points toward the Capital One Cup are earned and tracked throughout the year based on final standings of NCAA Division I Championships and final official coaches' polls. One winning men's and one winning women's program is crowned after the completion of the final NCAA spring championships. Unlike the Directors' Cup, only 13 men's and 13 women's sports are represented.
Kentucky finished in 22nd on the men's side of the Capital One Cup. The women were not ranked.
Florida and Stanford will each receive the Capital One Cup trophy and a $2000,000 donation to fund student-athlete graduate-level scholarships for winning the men's and women's standings, respectively.
Valerie Still is the leader among all Wildcats -- men or women -- for career scoring (2,763) and rebounding (1,525).
"Where are they now" is a six-part summer series that will take a look back at the careers of former Kentucky athletes and find out what they're doing post-UK. Today we will catch up with the school's all-time leading basketball scorer, Valerie Still.
Attaining any level of athletic success requires a certain measure of drive and determination. Attaining the level of athletic success that Valerie Still has achieved in becoming one of the most decorated women's basketball players of all time requires drive and determination unknown to most.
Valerie Still's road to becoming the top scorer (2,763 points) and rebounder (1,525 rebounds) in Kentucky men's and women's basketball history was paved, to a large extent, by her willpower. Still's achievements at UK came at a time when women's sports were still in a budding stage at the college level and her professional career began before a women's league even existed in the United States, yet she was undeterred.
For all that she overcame as a player, her perseverance was not fully tested until after her career was over. It was then that Still encountered some of the tragedies and personal troubles that can befall any of us, no matter what we have or haven't accomplished.
"People see us as professional athletes who have been successful and that lived the high life," Still said. "I'm an example of how you can do incredible things, but we're still human."
In handling those problems, Still has conducted herself the same way she did through the now much more trivial-seeming problems she came upon as a player. She has held her head high and taken them in stride. In fact, Still sees the bigger picture.
"I've always kind of been this way, but with everything that's happened, God has a specific plan for me," Still said. "Everything that's happened to me I use as a stepping stone."
The first of those tests came in the form of becoming a single mother. In 2005, Still and her husband, former UK basketball player Rob Lock, filed for divorce. Still took over sole responsibility of raising their son. It's a role she never anticipated and one for which she could not have prepared.
"I never would have thought I'd be a single mom," Still said. "I understand what single moms go through. I can relate in that way."
Although preparing for being a single mother is impossible, her strength in going about the task came from two sources: God and her own mother.
Still's mother, Gwendolyn, was the rock of her family. The ninth of 10 children in poverty in Camden, N.J., Valerie Still saw the passion of her mother and felt her unconditional love. Still and her siblings were inspired by their mother and success followed. Three of her brothers played college basketball and another, Art, went on to football stardom at UK and the NFL.
"She was really the foundation of our family," Still said of her mother. "Everything that we've done, all of my brothers, it was all about who she was: a strong woman building our self-confidence."
Drawing from that strength is what gave Still the ability to raise her son, but another test would follow when her mother passed away.
"When something like that happens, it changes your life dramatically," Still said.
While her mother was ill in the hospital, Still flew out to Kansas to be with her family. She and her brother Dennis, who was living in Kansas at the time, carried the burden of making decisions on behalf of their mother, culminating in taking her off of life support.
Still was working towards a doctorate in sports humanities at Ohio State when her mother died. Living in Ohio at the time, Still decided to move from Ohio to Kansas permanently. She had always been extremely close with Dennis, who played basketball at South Alabama, and dealing with her mother's death made her realize that she and her son needed to be physically closer to him.
Still had done her best in raising her son, who is now 15, but as he entered adolescence, it became clear that a male role model like Dennis would benefit him greatly.
"I'm a pretty strong woman, I'm pretty assertive; you could say I'm feminist in a way," Still said. "I'm pretty self-sufficient and I raised him that way. I surrounded him with as many positive male role models as possible. As he was turning 14, I thought he really needed to have a stable male father figure in his life."
Additionally, Valerie is working with Dennis. He started a business called "Ol School" Sports Academy where he trains young athletes and his sister is now involved as well.
"He has a facility that trains young athletes and he needed some help with running it and I needed a job, so I'm running it," Still said. "I help with training as well, but mainly deal with the administrative kind of things."
Still was in need of a job because she was dismissed from her position as head women's basketball coach at a small school in rural Kansas after one season. Still says that she was terminated wrongfully due to racial and gender discrimination and is involved in an ongoing legal claim against the school system.
"They hired me, I did really well and at the end of the season they actually fired me," Still said. "I've been all over the world, all kinds of places, and in 2011 had this experience."
After all that she has endured, from life as a single mother, to the death of her own mother, to being fired from a job she truly enjoyed, Still would be more than justified if she narrowed her focus down to her family and their life in Kansas, but that's simply not in her character.
What about the doctorate she was pursuing at the time of her mother's death? Still decided to pursue it again and changed her dissertation based on what happened in her life recently. Originally, she was studying the American Basketball League, the lesser-known predecessor to the WNBA that Still played in.
"Now I'm really interested in gender and race discrimination in high school and college athletics," Still said. "(With my doctorate), we study those kinds of things. We study sports law and how Title IX and Title VII work. Me being in it like this, it's going to be really educational. My new dissertation that I'm working on is all about race and gender discrimination and Title IX in high school athletics."
For all of her accolades as a player, Still's education is the accomplishment that means the most to her. Not only is she proud of her undergraduate degree from UK, master's at Ohio State and soon-to-be doctorate, she also will be putting them to good use.
In 1999, she founded the Valerie Still Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that "works to ensure that girls are encouraged and instructed to develop all their natural talents." While living in Ohio, Still coordinated a number of events and camps through her foundation to help young female athletes build confidence like her mother did for her.
After her mother's death, Still curtailed her work with her foundation to focus on her family. Recently, she has begun to devote her time to the foundation again and that work has inspired her to do even more.
"It's just been recent that I've actually got started again with that," Still said. "We've done a big event in central Ohio that we had in May. The Valerie Still Foundation does it along with the Junior League of Columbus. When I went back to do that, it really kick-started me. It really made me think that I had to push even more so for girls, young female athletes."
Armed with her education and experiences, she believes she can make a big difference.
"There's a lot of work to be done in the field of high school athletics and females," Still said. "I've connected with another non-profit here in Kansas City called Young Women on the Move. We are the process of getting ready to do another big program with young middle school girls. That's definitely my passion."
After her last high school coaching experience, Still also could have packed it in and said she was finished with that, but she will be heading back to the sideline again this fall. In fact, she will be coaching her son's team at Bishop Seabury Academy in Lawrence, Kan.
"It's a small school, but it has a really good basketball program, which they've asked me to coach," Still said. "I'm actually going to be coaching boys and helping with their girls' program as well."
The one regret she does have about the arrangement is that she is smack dab in the middle of Kansas Jayhawk territory.
"The only thing is that we need to be closer to UK though," Still said. "The Jayhawk influence is there now."
Although she is nearly 30 years removed from her college playing career, she still looks back fondly on her time at UK.
"When I go back to Lexington, I feel at home," Still said. "I spent more time academically at OSU, because I did two years with my master's and three or four with my doctorate, but I still feel like I'm a Wildcat."
UK was also a first step toward a professional career that saw her play in Italy before returning to the States to play in both the ABL and WNBA. Still also came back to play for the Washington Mystics after having a child, something few had accomplished at the time.
Still loves bragging about UK, but even she hasn't been brave enough to talk too much when the Jayhawks have lost before her Wildcats in the men's basketball tournament each of the past two seasons.
"The last two years, Kansas has lost the week before Kentucky in March Madness," Still said. "For that week that Kansas has lost, I've had to kind of quiet down. The Big Blue Nation is all over and I'll always be a part of that. I'll always bleed blue."
These days, Still has plenty of reasons to be proud of Kentucky's women's program as well. Head coach Matthew Mitchell is taking the Wildcats to heights unseen since Still wore the uniform in the 1980s. Still even brought up the possibility of becoming directly involved with the program in the future if the opportunity ever arises.
"The program now, with Matthew taking it on, that's what you want in a program," Still said. "You want a future in it. It's got the foundation and I think what we're doing right now is building on that so we can become a program that has great tradition like a UConn, like a Tennessee. I'm excited about it."